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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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


David Michel

bishop, denominational leader, and singer, was born in Windsor, Ontario, one of nine children of Matilda E. and Bishop Clarence Leslie Morton, a minister in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). His father pastored in Windsor and Detroit, Michigan. Morton started singing at an early age and developed his musical gifts while working in his father's Detroit pastorate. By the time he reached his teen years his father had already left the COGIC to lead an independent movement. Morton graduated from the J. C. Patterson Collegiate Institute and attended St. Clair College in Windsor, where he studied music. He started preaching in 1967 and was influenced by his older brother, James, who had become pastor of True Faith Baptist Church in Detroit (1970–1984). Like James, Morton would later pastor a Baptist congregation.

In 1972 the young Morton was called to work ...


David Michel

pastor and church leader, was born in Humboldt, Tennessee, the youngest son of Mary Louise Williams and William Archie Patterson, a pastor in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). The family later moved to Memphis, where Patterson attended Lincoln Elementary School. In 1951 he was saved during a revival at Holy Temple, the church pastored by his father. In 1952 the Pattersons moved to Detroit, where Elder William A. Patterson became the pastor of New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ. The younger Patterson attended and graduated from Hutchins Intermediate School and Central High School. He also sang with the youth group of his father's church. He received a divine call to the ministry, was licensed by his father in 1957, and entered Detroit Bible College. In 1958 he was ordained and three years later returned to Memphis to serve as co pastor at Holy ...


SaFiya D. Hoskins

singer, actress, and ordained minister, was born Delloreese Patricia Early in Detroit, Michigan, the only child born to the union of Nellie Mitchelle and Richard Thaddeus Early. Her mother, who was of Cherokee descent, worked as cook, and her father was a steelworker. Reese grew up in the church and began singing gospel at age six. As a young teenager, she served as a choir director and would often perform on radio. Subsequently, Reese was discovered by the popular gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. At age thirteen, she began touring with Jackson; she graduated from Cass Technical High School two years later and continued touring with Jackson. While a psychology student at Wayne State University in Detroit, at age eighteen, Reese formed her own gospel group called the Meditation Singers, which would become the first group to popularize gospel in Las Vegas.

Reese discontinued her education at ...


Robbie Clark

The multitalented Della Reese is one of the most treasured and well-respected entertainers of our time. Born Deloreese Patricia Early, she discovered her own singing talents as early as the age of six, singing hymns and gospel songs from the bathroom window of her family’s third-floor apartment in Detroit, Michigan. Radio listeners heard her voice over the airways across Detroit when the six-year-old sang as a soloist with the Olivet Baptist Church choir. It was then that family, friends, and neighbors unmistakably recognized her as their very own child prodigy. Her aspirations grew over the years to include writing, acting, and teaching, as well as singing.

Della Reese was born in Detroit. Her father, Richard Thad Early, an African American, was a steelworker. Her mother, Nellie Early was a Cherokee Indian and worked as a housekeeper She had five half siblings When she was thirteen years old ...


David J. Endres

Roman Catholic priest, musician, and composer, was born Clarence Rufus Rivers Jr. in Selma, Alabama, to Clarence Rufus Rivers and Lorraine (Echols) Rivers. Rivers's early life was spent in Alabama. His family relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, around 1940, where Clarence enrolled in St. Ann's school, attached to one of the oldest black Catholic parishes in the country. At that time the Rivers family was not Catholic, but when the parish offered to have Clarence baptized, his parents consented and eventually the entire family converted. Rivers continued his education in area Catholic schools through high school. Encouraged by Father Charles Murphy of St. Ann Church, Rivers aspired to become a priest. He entered St. Gregory Minor Seminary, Cincinnati, in 1946 in the eleventh grade and after completion of high school and two years of college was sent to Mt St Mary s Seminary also in ...


Aaron Myers

Willie Mae Ford Smith's involvement with the world of Gospel Music started early; the daughter of the deacon of a Baptist Church, she sang in church as a child. As a teen she was the lead vocalist in a gospel quartet she formed with her sisters. The group performed to great acclaim at the National Baptist Convention of 1922.

Smith was ordained as a minister in 1926, but as a woman was forbidden to preach in the Baptist Church, an edict that prompted her departure from that church in later years. In 1932, along with Thomas A. Dorsey and Sallie Martin Smith formed the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses an establishment credited with the nationwide popularization and development of gospel music She then took on a post as the director of the National Convention Soloists Bureau where she was charged with teaching and ...


Tammy L. Kernodle

gospel singer and evangelist, was born Willie Mae Ford in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, to Clarence Ford, a railroad worker, and Mary Williams, a restaurateur. The seventh of fourteen children, Willie Mae had varying experiences in her early life as the family moved frequently throughout the Midwest. Clarence Ford worked hard to give his children a stable home. He and his wife were devout Christians whose interest in gospel singing extended beyond their music making in the home to area churches in and around Memphis, Tennessee, where the family moved shortly after Willie Mae's birth.

The vibrant black community and musical environment of Memphis introduced Willie Mae to the two genres that would greatly influence both her musical development and the course of her life blues and gospel singing Willie Mae s experience with the blues considered by most Protestant blacks to be the Devil s music came ...