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Lois Bellamy

singer, music educator, choral director, was born in Sandfly, Georgia, a tiny hamlet of Savannah, one of thirteen children born to Daphne and Daniel Berksteiner. Her father worked as a carpenter, and her mother took in washing to make ends meet. In addition to the influence of her family, her early years were influenced by her church, the Speedwell Episcopal Church, and its school, Haven Home. It was at Speedwell and Haven Home that Constance received, first, religious instruction and, second, her introduction to academia.

Through her association with the church she received her first scholarship which enabled her to attend and graduate from the Boylan Home High School in Jacksonville Florida The specific point at which Constance realized she could sing is unrecorded There was the singing in the church as a child and in the choir in her high school years Perhaps the realization ...

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Mary Krane Derr

Roman Catholic religious leader, sacred music performer, and social justice activist, was born Bertha J. Bowman in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the granddaughter of slaves and only child of physician Theon Edward Bowman and high school music teacher Mary Esther Coleman. Baptized an Episcopalian, Bertha attended Methodist services. Growing up in segregated, impoverished Canton, Mississippi, she absorbed the spirituality and music of black community elders and her parents' own deep commitments to lives of service. At age ten, she chose to be baptized as a Roman Catholic because she admired the work of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) in Canton. In the face of public uproar, white nuns from this order taught black students at Holy Child Jesus Catholic School. Unable to read after five years of poor quality education in segregated public schools, Bertha finally became literate after transferring to this school in 1949 ...

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Melvin L. Butler

gospel composer and pastor, was born into a family of sharecroppers in Somerville, Tennessee. Although Brewster stemmed from a humble background, he managed to study a wide variety of subjects, including theology, law, and Hebrew. After graduating from Roger Williams College in 1922 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee. By 1930 Brewster had begun a lifelong tenure as pastor of the East Trigg Baptist Church. A major aspect of Brewster's early ministry centered on the founding of theology schools, and these centers of learning helped to establish his voice as one of moral authority and spiritual guidance in religious circles.

By the time Brewster began seriously publishing his songs in the 1940s he had gained over a decade of experience in his pastoral role This experience provided a wellspring of material for songs that often relayed Old Testament stories and were enjoyed by African American congregations across the United States ...

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Gayle Murchison

gospel singer and evangelist known as the “First Lady of Gospel,” was the tenth of thirteen children born to Hannah and James Caesar in Durham, North Carolina. Her tobacco-worker father, active as a local preacher and singer with his Just Come Four Quartet, died when Caesar was about seven. Her mother, who was partially disabled, ran a small store from the back porch of the house; the children worked to support the family. Educated in the Durham public schools, she played piano and sang with two sisters, a cousin, and occasionally one of her brothers at churches, schools, and other functions. She joined the Charity Singers, her earnings supplementing the family income. Known as Baby Shirley, Caesar joined her pastor Bishop Frizelle Yelverton of Mount Calvary Holy Church when he preached at churches in the Carolinas and Virginia (he also had a weekly local radio show). In 1951 Caesar ...

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Kip Lornell

gospel composer and teacher, was born in Duck Hill, Mississippi, the daughter of Burrell Campbell, a railroad worker, and Isabella Wilkerson. Lucy's mother was widowed several months after Lucy's birth, and the family soon moved from Carroll County to Memphis, Tennessee, the nearest major city. Lucie and her many siblings struggled to survive on their mother's meager wages, which she earned by washing and ironing clothing. Given the family's insubstantial income, it could afford a musical education for only one child, Campbell's older sister Lora. Lucie eventually learned to play piano, however, through her own persistence, a gifted ear for music, and a little help from Lora.

Lucie Campbell was a bright student who easily mastered elementary school and middle school, winning awards in both penmanship and Latin. Even before graduating from Kortrecht Senior High School (later Booker T. Washington High School as the class valedictorian she ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

gospel singer, arranger, and minister, was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Benjamin Cleveland, an employee of the federal Works Progress Administration, and Rosie (Lee) Cleveland. Cleveland's father and grandmother, Annie Hicks, raised him. Hicks was a devout member of the Pilgrim Baptist Church and choir, where pianist and composer Thomas A. Dorsey served as choir director. During the Depression, James delivered newspapers to neighbors such as the gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. By the age of five he had a desire to play the piano like his childhood idol Roberta Martin of the Roberta Martin Singers. Since his family was too poor to afford a piano, he used his windowsill as an imaginary keyboard on which to master scales and chords. The church organist, Lucy Smith, provided Cleveland with formal instruction, and Roberta Martin took an early interest in his career At the age of eight ...

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Lois Bellamy

gospel singer, songwriter, pianist, actor, and humanitarian, was born in San Antonio, Texas, to a barber and a seamstress. His parents’ names are not recorded. He sang his first song at the age of five and began singing, as a teenager, at the Refugee Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in San Antonio. He also began studying classical piano at the same age. Dixon attended a local Catholic college on a scholarship but dropped out to pursue a music career. He began touring at seventeen and played black churches in California, Texas, and Louisiana.

Dixon was introduced to gospel music in his youth when his group performed at a theater in south Texas City, where gospel icon James Cleveland was in the audience Cleveland liked Dixon and persuaded him to move to Chicago as a teenager to join his group The Gospel Chimes Around ...

Article

Norman Weinstein

Prince Far I was born Michael Williams in Spanish Town and grew up in the Waterhouse area of Kingston, Jamaica. His musical career began in 1970 when he convinced the Reggae producer Coxsone Dodd (who employed him as a security guard at Studio One, Jamaica's most famous recording studio) to let him record when a scheduled musician failed to appear for a session. Dodd was so taken by Prince Far I's talent as a DJ (someone chanting or talking-singing spontaneously over prerecorded rhythm tracks) that he released several Prince Far I recordings under the name he created for the performer, King Cry-Cry As he gained confidence and sought other producers for his recordings Williams changed his name to Prince Far I Distinguishing features of his recordings under the name King Cry Cry or Prince Far I include a thunderously deep bass delivery of intensively personal lyrics laced ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Aretha Louise Franklin grew from a young gospel singer into a successful and world-famous vocalist. Her many popular hits and gospel masterpieces have earned her the title Queen of Soul. As a daughter of the renowned Baptist preacher C. L. Franklin and his wife, well-known singer Barbara Siggers Franklin, Franklin was born into the world of Gospel Music. Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up in Detroit, Michgan, where her father drew a congregation of 4,500 people to his New Bethel Baptist Church. C. L. Franklin recognized his daughter's talent, and she was performing in New Bethel's choir by the age of eight. She sang solos at age twelve, and at fourteen she made her first recordings, including a version of Thomas A. Dorsey s gospel classic Precious Lord Take My Hand Franklin also began touring with her father singing wherever he served as ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

preacher, was born Clarence LaVaughn Pitman in Sunflower, Mississippi, to Elijah J. Pitman and Willie Ann Pitman, sharecroppers. Elijah served in Europe during World War I, returned to Mississippi briefly, and then departed. Shortly thereafter, Willie Ann married Henry Franklin, a farmer; the family took his name, and Franklin became Clarence's father. As a boy Clarence usually went to school from December to March, which was when he was not needed in the field. His mother took him and his stepsister, Aretha, to St. Peter's Rock Baptist Church, where he sang in the choir, and eventually became lead tenor. His father, religious but not a churchgoer, exposed Clarence to the blues idiom of Blind Lemon Jefferson and other soulful musicians.

At the age of nine or ten Clarence attended a revival meeting and took his first step toward a career in the ministry when he joined the ...

Article

Crystal Renée Sanders

Baptist minister and community leader. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin was born in Sunflower, Mississippi, to Willie Walker and Rachel Pittman Walker, who were sharecroppers. Before 1920, his mother remarried, to Henry Franklin, who subsequently adopted Clarence. Young “C. L.” picked cotton with his parents and three siblings, which prevented him from completing grade school.

In the summer of 1931, Franklin preached his trial sermon at Saint Peter's Rock Missionary Baptist Church. He served as an itinerant minister for several years at churches throughout the Mississippi Delta. On 16 October 1934, Franklin married Alene Gaines, but little is known about the marriage. On 3 June 1936, Franklin married Barbara Vernice Siggers and adopted her young son, Vaughn. To this union were born four children: Erma, Cecil, Aretha, and Carolyn. Aretha became a Grammy Award–winning singer.

Aware of the limited opportunities and ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

singer, songwriter, and minister, was born Albert Leornes Greene in Dansby, Arkansas, the sixth of ten children of Robert Greene, a sharecropper, and Cora. During slavery the Greene ancestors were owned by the Benton family; after emancipation the Greene descendants continued to work the land of their former owners under an economic arrangement known as crop lien, which promised the workers a share of profits that rarely materialized. Shortly after Al's birth, his family moved into a two-bedroom shack in nearby Jacknash, Arkansas, with the hope that a new field would produce more profitable corn, cotton, and soybeans than their old farm. Jacknash had two churches: Taylor's Chapel, a fiery Pentecostal congregation, and the slightly more subdued Church of the Living God. Green's parents were very religious and attended both.

Music was the most constant influence during Green s formative years it was heard around the ...

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Al Greene was born into a large family of sharecroppers in Forrest City, Arkansas, and at age nine formed in a gospel quartet with three of his brothers, The Green Brothers. Green always enjoyed secular music, however, and when he turned sixteen, formed his first pop group in Michigan, where his family had moved. In 1967 he released “Back Up Train,” which became a minor hit.

Green's career gained momentum in 1969, when he met producer Willie Mitchell, who signed him to Hi Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Their partnership resulted in an innovative new Soul Music sound featuring spare instrumentation muted guitar simple horns and backbeats accompanied by Green s quiet but insistent vocals lyrically searching for the possibilities of love and often taking off into wild falsettos Though quieter than the so called Stax sound Green s music was complex and a popular and welcome ...

Article

Melinda E. Weekes

gospel music singer, composer, and pioneer of contemporary gospel music, was born in Oakland, California, one of eight children of Dan Lee, a longshoreman with the Port of Oakland, and Maime Hawkins, a homemaker. Both the piano and the church were central fixtures of daily life for this close-knit family during the World War II era. The Hawkins family would gather around the piano for hours of impromptu singing, playful harmonizing, and group rehearsing. Edwin sang in the youth choir and played piano for the family singing group. Throughout his adolescence, he was well known in Bay Area church circles and had become the Minister of Music at Ephesians Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in Berkeley. His musical influences were diverse and included Perry Como, the McGuire Sisters, James Cleveland, the Caravans, and the Clara Ward Singers His early years were ...

Article

SaFiya D. Hoskins

singer, was born Tramaine Aunzola Davis in San Francisco, California, the daughter of Lois Ruth Davis and Roland Duvall Davis. Her mother was a gospel singer. At age four she moved with her family to Berkeley, California. Davis had grown up attending the Ephesian Church of God in Christ, where her maternal grandfather, Bishop E. E. Cleveland, was pastor, and her aunt Ernestine Cleveland Reems was an evangelist. Davis was raised practicing the C.O.G.I.C. faith, a Holiness-Pentecostal religion and the second-largest African American denomination. Together with her friends Mary McCreary, Elva Mouton, and Vaetta Stewart, she was part of a singing group called the Heavenly Tones and in 1966 recorded her first single, “He's All Right,” on the Music City label. The same year, the King of Gospel Music, James Cleveland, produced their album I Love the Lord and the Heavenly Tones ...

Article

Donald Yacovone

abolitionist and singer, was born Lavinia (sometimes Lavina) F. Ames in Andover, Massachusetts, to Prince and Eunice (Russ) Ames. Nothing else is known about her early life except that the U.S. census listed her as a mulatto. She married the abolitionist leader John T. Hilton on 31 October 1825. The couple had six children—one died an infant in 1826—Lucretia, Louisa, John W., Henry, and Thomas B. She was active in Boston's African Baptist Church and in April 1833 performed a vocal solo in a concert held in the church by the Baptist Singing Society. While her husband achieved fame as an abolitionist leader and grand master of the Prince Hall Freemason lodge number 459 in Boston, Lavinia pursued her own antislavery work—a contribution that has been largely overlooked by historians.

In April 1833 while her husband helped form a gentleman s temperance ...

Article

Emmett P. Tracy

singer, songwriter, and blues slide guitarist. Born Eddie James House Jr. in Riverton, Mississippi, House chopped cotton as a teenager, followed a calling as a preacher in the Baptist Church, and served time at Parchman Farm (Mississippi State Penitentiary) before becoming one of the greatest pioneers of Delta blues slide-guitar playing. His style profoundly influenced Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf.

When House's parents separated in 1908 or 1909, House began drifting from one cotton plantation to another across the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana. By 1920 his family had settled near Lyon, Mississippi, and House had fully committed himself to the Baptist congregation. From the age of fifteen he had been delivering sermons around the Delta, and in 1922 he became pastor of a country church near Lyon. After an affair with a female congregant in 1923 and a subsequent escape ...

Article

Kevin Brook

singer, was born Emily Drinkard in Newark, New Jersey, the youngest daughter of Nitch Drinkard, an African American sewing machine factory worker originally from Georgia, and Delia Mae McCaskill, a housewife of African American and Scottish descent who was born in Florida. Both of Houston's parents died before her nineteenth birthday. As a five-year-old she began to sing gospel music as the youngest member of her family's group, The Drinkard Four, at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. Her service as the church's minister of music began in 1953 and continued into the twenty-first century. In 1954 she married Freddie Garland, with whom they had a son (Gary Garland), but they divorced two years later. After her marriage to John Houston Jr. in 1959 she officially became Emily Houston a name by which she was credited for singing and songwriting on some of the early records she worked ...

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Kevin Sliman

blues musician and preacher, was born in Pelahatchie, Mississippi. His father, a fireman in Jackson, Mississippi, died in 1911 and Lacy was raised by his grandfather, an African Methodist preacher. He attended school for five years and quickly turned his attention to music. Coming from a musically skilled family, Lacy organized his siblings into gospel quartets while his mother or other siblings played harmonica. He learned to play guitar and mandolin in his early teens from a man named George “Crow Jane” Hendrix, a professional musician. His uncle, Herbert Meiels a German who was highly educated and spoke five languages taught Lacy German history and politics At age twenty Lacy moved to Jackson Mississippi to pursue music but stayed only a short time before he began doing railroad work that took him all over Mississippi and then to Iowa Lacy moved to Chicago and lived with Meiels ...

Article

David Michel

gospel pianist and arranger, was born Gwendolyn Rosetta Capps in Brookport, Illinois, the daughter of Mase and Florence Capps. Gwendolyn was the fourth of six children. At an early age she manifested some musical disposition by pretending to play piano on her father's razor stand and her mother's sewing machine. Her father died in 1934 and Gwendolyn was raised by her mother. To help the promising Gwendolyn pursue a musical education, a local family donated a piano to her mother. After high school she studied classical music and piano at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and at the Lyon & Healy Academy of Music in Chicago.

In the early 1940s she settled in Chicago, where she was introduced to gospel music while attending a service at a Shiloh Baptist Church. Chicago was then the emerging national center of black gospel music with a galaxy of stars including Thomas ...