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Marshanda Smith

During the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Shirley Ann Williams Caesar was recognized as one of the premier gospel singers in the world. In a recording career that stretched back to the 1960s, Caesar recorded more than forty albums, participated in sixteen compilations, performed in three gospel musicals, and successfully entered American popular consumer culture. The first gospel singer to win a Grammy award, Caesar won numerous other awards and accolades, including eleven Grammies, thirteen Stellar Gospel Music Awards, eighteen Dove Awards, three Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) gold certifications, a Soul Train Music Award, an Essence Magazine Award for Achievement in the Arts McDonald s Gospelfest Golden Circle Lifetime Achievement Award two NAACP Achievement Awards and a SESAC Lifetime Achievement Award as well as the prestigious James Cleveland Award The recipient of several honorary doctorate degrees and an inductee in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame ...


James Sellman

During the 1950s and 1960s Ray Charles was a key figure in the development of Rhythm and Blues (R&B), an African American style that transformed American popular music. Charles and other black R&B musicians gave popular music a broader expressive range and a powerful rhythmic drive, laying the groundwork for rock and roll. In particular, Charles was a leader in incorporating the Gospel Music of the black church into secular music, investing his compositions with propulsive energy and emotional power.

Ray Charles, born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia, grew up in Greenville, Florida, where his parents, Aretha and Baily Robinson, had moved when he was three months old. The United States was experiencing the worst years of the Great Depression and Charles recalled Even compared to other blacks we were on the bottom Nothing below us except the ground At the age of four Charles developed ...


Marc Anthony Neal

singer, bandleader, and entrepreneur, was born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia, the son of Bailey Robinson, a day worker, and Aretha (maiden name unknown). Charles's younger brother and only sibling drowned at age four. By the age of seven Charles had lost his sight to glaucoma and was sent to the State School for the Blind and Deaf in St. Augustine, Florida, where he remained until his mother's death when he was fifteen. It was during his time at the school for the blind, which was segregated by race, that he received formal piano lessons and learned to read braille. After his mother's death, he set out on his own, traveling and working as a musician around Jacksonville, Florida.

Charles's earliest influences as a musician were the jazz and blues pianist Charles Brown and the pianist and singer Nat King Cole His ability to learn the styles ...


Donald Roe

singer, pianist, composer, and bandleader. Among the characters that the comedian Clerow “Flip” Wilson portrayed on his television variety show in the early 1970s was the sassy, “get you straight” Geraldine Jones, who routinely declared her love and devotion for Ray Charles. The fictional Geraldine, like legions of fans black and white, young and old, admired Charles not only for his considerable musical talent but also for his tenacity in overcoming blindness to become an American music icon.

Ray Charles Robinson was born in Albany, Georgia, the son of Bailey Robinson, a married railroad track worker, and the teenager Aretha Williams a field hand and laundress Unwed and facing an uncertain future Williams moved with her son to Greenville Florida shortly after his birth Although his family was poor the young Ray lived a relatively happy and normal childhood until one terrible day ...


Joyce Marie Jackson

Mahalia Jackson, destined to become one of the greatest gospel singers of all time, was born in poverty in a three-room “shotgun” shack on Water Street between the railroad tracks and the Mississippi River levee in New Orleans. She was the third of six children. Her father, John A. Jackson, was a stevedore, barber, and Baptist preacher. Her mother, Charity Clark, died at twenty-five when Jackson was just a child.

Jackson began to sing at the age of four in the children’s choir at Plymouth Rock Baptist. After her mother’s death, her mother’s sisters, Mahalia “Aunt Duke” Paul, for whom Mahalia was named, and Bessie Kimble, both of New Orleans, raised Mahalia. They lived in the section of the city upriver from Audubon Park that would later be known as Black Pearl.

As a young girl growing up in New Orleans Jackson absorbed the musical sounds of ...


Navneet Sethi

gospel singer. Mahalia Jackson was known as the Queen of Gospel; her voice was described by her friend Martin Luther King Jr. as “a voice [that] comes not once in a century but once in a millennium.” On listening to Jackson sing “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” or “Steal Away to Jesus,” one feels, not resignation at the prospect of leaving this world as a weary traveler, but rather unambiguous exultation in the anticipation of the welcome that awaits in the house of God.

Jackson's deeply experienced Christianity led her to gospel singing. Her unshakable religious bond defined the essence of her life, her vision, and her performance. Jackson's story is a testament to how the good news of the Gospel became through her voice the basis of a music not just of religious redemption but also of great power in the civil rights movement.

It was Jackson who brought ...


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 ...


Diane Epstein

Mavis Staples spoke affectionately about her dad, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, as her first and major source of inspiration. Roebuck Staples moved to Chicago from Mississippi in 1935 with his wife, Oceola, their daughter, Cleotha, and son, Pervis. Three more children were born in Chicago, including Mavis in 1940. Chicago became home base for the family. It was not just music that tied the family together but their strong religious beliefs and their commitment to the church.

Staples had two other strong influences in her life. The person who affected her in her formative years was another extraordinary gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson Staples loved to tell the story of how they met and became longtime personal and professional friends Roebuck Staples introduced his daughter to Jackson s singing by way of her radio performances Staples was only about eight but she knew when she listened that this was ...


Jerma A. Jackson

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, the daughter of Katie Bell Nubin and an unknown father. While she began her career in the Church of God in Christ, Tharpe later emerged as a major force in the expansion of gospel into the commercial realm. She brought national attention to gospel through her recordings, which were played on the radio and in jukeboxes throughout the country, especially in the South, and through her personal appearances. Tharpe’s songs sold so well that several topped the record charts, including a number of duets she recorded with the gospel singer Marie Knight. Throughout World War II and the decade following the war, Tharpe’s name carried a certain magic as throngs of men and women turned out for her concerts.

Displaying unusual talent at a young age Rosetta was singing and playing guitar by the time she was two and ...


Anthony Heilbut

The famous Ward Singers were the finest group during gospel’s golden age, the period from 1945 to 1960, and Clara Ward was one of the supreme gospel talents. Her vocal style was closely echoed by Aretha Franklin. Similarly, the stylistic mannerisms of her star soloist, Marion Williams, inspired Little Richard. Traces of the Ward Singers can be detected in popular and gospel music decades after Ward’s death.

The group was formed by Gertrude Murphy Ward (1901-1983), a native of South Carolina who, with her husband, George, had moved to Philadelphia, where her daughters Willarene, born in 1921, and Clara, who lived from 1924 to 1973, were born. In 1931 while working in a local dry cleaning establishment Gertrude Ward felt herself summoned to sing the gospel and help save dying men She became an early exponent of the gospel style pioneered ...