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Article

Alex Bradford was born in Bessemer, Alabama, where he grew up listening to the country Blues, gospel quartets, and music in the Holiness church. He moved to Chicago, Illinois, after serving in the United States Army in World War II (1939–1945). Bradford honed his singing and composing skills under the tutelage of gospel singers Mahalia Jackson and Roberta Martin. He composed “Since I Met Jesus” and “Let God Abide” for Martin. In 1954 Bradford created the Bradford Specials, an all-male gospel group. The Specials were famous for their colorful robes, soaring falsettos, and dramatic body gestures. Their biggest hit was Bradford's “Too Close to Heaven,” which sold over one million records. By 1960 Bradford had moved to New York, New York, where he began to experiment with gospel theater. Langston Hughes wrote the play Black Nativity for Bradford and Marion Williams in 1961 ...

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Dave Laing

(b Philadelphia, 1936; d Schiphol airport, Netherlands, Oct 10, 2010). American soul and gospel singer. He came from a family of Christian ministers and became known as the ‘Wonder-Boy Preacher’ after appearing on the radio in Philadelphia at the age of nine. Burke developed what he called his ‘rock and soul music’ in the early 1960s, recording hit versions of Harlan Howard's country and western song Just out of Reach (Of my Two Empty Arms) and Cry to me. Most of his best recordings were melodramatic ballads such as If You Need Me and Goodbye Baby, although the insistent dance song Everybody needs somebody to love was one of his biggest hits Like Ray Charles Burke helped to shape the soul music genre by adapting the vocal motifs of black American religious music to secular themes This approach was ...

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Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Harry Burleigh became interested in music from an early age and, although poverty kept him from formal study, he sang at local churches and synagogues. With a scholarship he began studying in 1892 at the National Conservatory of Music in New York, with the conservatory's director Antonín Dvorák. He was selected as the baritone soloist for St. George's Episcopal Church in New York in 1894, a position he held until 1946, and was also the soloist for New York's Temple Emanu-El from 1900 to 1925.

Until Burleigh published his arrangements, Jubilee Songs of the United States of America, in 1916 spirituals had been performed only in choral arrangements By putting the spirituals into the form of art songs they were available to soloists The best known of his arrangements Deep River was said to be the most performed ...

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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 ...

Article

Kip Lornell

Campbell, Lucie E. (1885–03 January 1963), gospel composer and teacher, was born in Duck Hill, Mississippi, the daughter of Burrell Campbell, a railroad worker, and Isabella Wilkerson. Her mother was widowed several months after Lucie’s birth, and the family soon moved from Carroll County to Memphis, 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: Lucie’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 as the ...

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Wynona Carr was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Her first records were Each Day and Lord Jesus (both 1949), made after she had formed the Carr Singers, a traveling gospel quintet, in 1945. She is best known for “The Ball Game” (1952 one of a series ...

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Dave Marsh

(b Albany, GA, Sept 23, 1930; d Beverley Hills, CA, June 10, 2004). American rhythm-and-blues and soul singer, pianist and songwriter. Charles grew up in Greenville, Florida, in a poor black family, and at the age of five he contracted glaucoma; it went untreated and within a year he was blind. At the same age he also began playing the piano. Two years later he went to the St Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind, where he studied composition and learnt to write music scores in braille. In 1945 Charles was orphaned and left school to form a combo which toured northern and central Florida He then moved to Seattle where he played in jazz trios developing a piano and vocal style heavily influenced by Charles Brown and Nat King Cole It was also at about this time that he ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

James Edward Cleveland was born in Chicago, Illinois. A child prodigy, he began to play the piano when he was five years old. His family was too poor to afford a piano, so Cleveland practiced on his windowsill, painting the ledge with black and white keys. Growing up in Chicago, Cleveland was surrounded by the legends of the first generation of Gospel Music. At the age of eight, he sang as a soloist for the Junior Gospel Choir at Pilgrim Baptist Church directed by the “Father of Gospel Music,” Thomas Andrew Dorsey. Cleveland was also influenced by the Roberta Martin Singers, particularly Roberta Martin's piano playing.

By age fifteen Cleveland had joined the Thorne Crusaders, with whom he sang around Chicago until 1954 During this time he began composing and he wrote Grace is Sufficient for his idols the Roberta Martin Singers when he was ...

Article

Horace Clarence Boyer

(b Chicago, Dec 5, 1932; d Los Angeles, Feb 9, 1991). American gospel singer, composer and pianist. He started singing in Thomas A. Dorsey’s choir at the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, and made his first solo appearance with it at the age of eight. He joined the Thorn Gospel Singers as a teenager, and remained with them for eight years. After his voice began to break, he strained to reach high notes, however, resulting in a throaty and gravelly quality that increased with the years. He began composing in his early teens and had his first great success, Grace is sufficient, at the age of 16. Between 1956 and 1960 he was a member of the Caravans the Gospelaires the Gospel Chimes and the Gospel All Stars During this period he was most prolific as a composer writing as many ...

Article

Rob Bowman

(b Clarksdale, MI, Jan 22, 1931; d Los Angeles, Dec 11, 1964). American gospel and soul singer and songwriter. He first sang gospel music professionally as a teenager with the Chicago-based Highway QCs. In 1950 he replaced R.H. Harris as lead singer in one of the most important postwar gospel quartets, the Soul Stirrers. While their base remained Chicago, they recorded for Specialty records in Los Angeles with Cooke singing lead on emotionally charged recordings such as Were You There, Touch the Hem of His Garment, Be with Me Jesus and Nearer to Thee (the latter three written by Cooke). At Specialty, the producer Robert ‘Bumps’ Blackwell suggested that Cooke should also record as a solo secular artist. One single was released under the pseudonym Dale Cook before Cooke was released from his contract with Specialty in 1957 He then wrote ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

Cooke, Sam (22 January 1931–11 December 1964), singer-songwriter was born Samuel Cook in Clarksdale Mississippi the son of Charles Cook a minister in the Church of Christ Holiness and Annie May Carl After Sam s father lost his position as houseboy for a wealthy cotton farmer as a result of the Great Depression the family migrated to Chicago where Reverend Cook became assistant pastor of Christ Temple Holiness and a laborer in the stockyards The family lived in Bronzeville Chicago s severely overcrowded and impoverished black section Young Sam was educated at nearby schools and gained musical experience by sneaking into taverns to hear pop tunes but mostly by hearing and singing gospel music at church There he started a gospel group the Singing Children later he joined the Teenage Highway QC s and became more widely known throughout the nation He graduated from Wendell Phillips High ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, as a child Sam Cooke performed in Gospel Music ensembles in churches in Chicago, Illinois, where his father was a minister. In his teenage years he joined the Highway QC's, a local group that emulated the renowned Soul Stirrers. Cooke's natural talent and magnetic personality soon drew the attention of singer and manager J. W. Alexander, who landed Cooke a job as lead singer for the Soul Stirrers. Cooke began recording gospel classics with the quintet, while honing his smooth vocals and writing music of his own.

In the mid-1950s Alexander, who had noted the success of gospel-influenced Rhythm and Blues (R&B) acts such as that of African American pianist Ray Charles, convinced Cooke to switch to secular pop music. Alexander's vision of Cooke as a pop sensation among young African American women came true in 1957 when Cooke scored ...

Article

Christopher Ian Foster

gospel and pop musician, pioneer black record-company owner, and civil rights activist. Samuel Cook [sic] was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to the Reverend Charley Cook and Annie Mae Cook. The musical aspects of his father's preaching deeply influenced Cooke's formative years. According to Mahalia Jackson, a popular gospel singer, the church had a special rhythm retained “from slavery days” (Wolff, p. 21). Clarksdale also was home to Delta blues artists such as Robert Johnson and Skip James. The milieu in which Cooke grew up was musically oriented and deeply religious.

At the age of sixteen Cooke joined the fledgling gospel quartet the Highway QCs, which catalyzed his later initiation into the more widely recognized group the Soul Stirrers. In 1951, with Cooke singing lead, the Soul Stirrers recorded the hit single “Jesus Gave Me Water.” Between 1951 and 1957 the year Cooke ...

Article

Paul Oliver

(b between Clinton and Laurens, SC, April 30, 1896; d Hammonton, NJ, May 5, 1972). American gospel and blues singer and guitarist. He was blinded as a child, but learnt the harmonica, banjo and guitar by the age of seven. When his left wrist was broken it was incorrectly set, and the distortion enabled him to play unorthodox chords. As a member of a country string that included the legendary Blind Willie Walker, Davis acquired a broad repertory of rags, reels, carnival tunes and blues. His free-flowing blues technique, as in I’m throwin’ up my hands (1935, ARC) and recorded under the name of Blind Gary, had a great influence on other blues guitarists in the eastern USA. In 1933 Davis was ordained a minister in Washington, North Carolina, and afterwards played religious music almost exclusively. Lord stand by me (1935 ...

Article

Thomas A. Dorsey's name is synonymous with modern Gospel Music. Dorsey composed over 1,000 songs in his lifetime, half of which were published. With creative genius and business savvy, Dorsey popularized songs that combined the rhythm and tonality of Blues with lyrics about personal spiritual salvation. Countless gospel performers achieved their first success singing Dorsey's music. His most famous song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” is one of the most popular gospel songs in America.

Dorsey was born to Etta and Thomas Madison Dorsey. Thomas Madison was an itinerant preacher, and Etta played the organ in church. As a child, Dorsey was regularly exposed to spirituals and Baptist hymns. Extended family members introduced Dorsey to rural blues and shaped-note singing. In 1908 the family moved to Atlanta, where Dorsey learned to play the piano by watching pianists at a vaudeville theater on Decatur Street. Dorsey also saw Ma ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

gospel and R&B singer, was born Marybelle Luraine Ellison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter and middle child of Thomas and Castina Ellison. Her father was a native of North Carolina, and her mother of Delaware, where the two met and married prior to 1918, when Ellison's oldest sister, Paulina was born. By 1924 the family had moved to Philadelphia, where James, Luraine, and younger siblings Jeanietta and Kenard were born. Thomas Ellison worked as a laborer on the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, and later at a warehouse. It appears he never learned to write, because his World War II draft registration card is signed with a mark, and witnessed. Castina Thomas sometimes washed laundry for private homes.

Ellison began singing gospel music at the age of six, briefly with a group called the Sylvania Singers, before her family formed the Ellison Singers. In 1951 Ellison ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

World War II veteran, Bronze Star recipient, musician, and educator was born in Anderson, South Carolina, the eldest child of Reverend Charles Francis and his wife Hermena. In 1934 the Francis family moved to Keysville, Georgia, where his father accepted an assignment to lead Boggs Academy, a Presbyterian college preparatory school for African Americans founded in 1906. Charles Francis Jr. graduated from Boggs Academy in 1936 and subsequently attended Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, earning a degree in history in 1941.

Following his graduation, Francis briefly worked as a traveling salesman and also may have worked as a railroad porter, but with America's entry into World War II in 1942, Francis enlisted as a soldier in the US Army. His early military career is unknown, but by early 1943 Francis was assigned to the divisional staff of the all ...