REVIEWS

Melvin Crispell, III releases single titled "The First Noel.

Melvin Crispell, III spreads Christmas cheer with ‘The First Noel’

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Melvin Crispell, III releases single titled "The First Noel.

Since winning the ninth season of BET’s Sunday Best, Melvin Crispell, III has made waves as a solo artist who connects to the present generation of gospel music lovers while embracing a rich musical heritage passed down to him from his late parents, composer Melvin Crispell, Jr. and singer Tunesha Crispell. This year, in the spirit of the Yuletide season, the Grammy-nominated gospel artist delightedly released his latest holiday single, “The First Noel.”

In his heartfelt rendition, Melvin imbues the traditional Christmas carol with the spirit of a worship leader, softly and tenderly at first—as if serenading the Christ Child himself, before his tenor voice soars in adoration of the King of Israel. Melvin was intent on creating a seasonal piece that broke free from the monotony of recycled holiday music, and he teamed up with producer Chuck Butler to make it happen. 

“There were a few song choices that came across for Christmas,” Melvin shared with GMF by phone recently. “There were a lot of different ones that had been done over and over again for years. And so we were trying to figure out a good one that not many people have done before, or not many people have redone recently. And so we came across ‘The First Noel’ and thought, this will be an amazing take on a Christmas classic.” 

Melvin also had the privilege to perform the single on the “Stellar Tribute to the Holidays,” an experience he describes fondly.

“To be able to take [the single] and almost immediately [have] the opportunity to perform at the Stellar Christmas special, that was absolutely amazing. I got to see so many friends and familiar faces, and we all came together to have a good time and just do what we do best.”

 “The First Noel” is available on all digital outlets. Additionally, you can catch Melvin’s performance on the “Stellar Tribute to the Holidays.” For TV airdates and times specific to your state, please visit stellarawards.com.

In an upcoming feature, Melvin talks to GMF about his current project (No Failure), Grammy award nomination, and legacy of faith.

Black Gospel Ladies I Walked Out In Jesus Name 1947-1970 CD cover

I Walked Out In Jesus Name – 1947–1970 – The Black Gospel Ladies (Various Artists)

The Black Gospel Ladies (Various Artists)
I Walked Out In Jesus Name – 1947–1970
Gospel Friend-NarroWay Records (2023)
www.gospelfriend.se

The Black Gospel Ladies CD art work

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Sweden-based producer Per Notini of Gospel Friend Records presents traditional gospel music lovers a three-disc reissue of gospel pearls with the release of I Walked Out In Jesus Name – 1947–1970. The effort, comprised of songs spanning more than two decades, features Black all-female and primarily female gospel groups, choirs, and soloists.

In the 1940s, Black gospel music was a blooming genre primarily performed in churches and religious events. By the end of the decade, there was an increase in the recording and broadcasting of gospel music, which enabled gospel artists to reach audiences beyond their local communities. Gospel music continued to expand in the 1950s with the growing popularity of quartets and groups, and in the 1960s as gospel choirs flourished. Throughout the time period, gospel music lyrics perpetuated messages of faith, hope, and resilience.

The roster of artists, of whom Notini refers collectively as “The Black Gospel Ladies,” includes well known acts like the Caravans, Clara Ward Singers, Roberta Martin Singers, Dionne Warwick featuring the Drinkard Singers, Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, as well as lesser known singers of comparable talent like the Detroit Harmonettes, Ruth Beck Singers, Spiritual Singers for Christ, Evelyn Tyler and The Tyler Singers, and Alberta Kay Williams.

With songs arranged alphabetically by artist name, the 83-track offering opens with Sister Beatrice Adams’ recording of Robert Anderson’s “Prayer Changes Things.” The Minnie Woods Trio, thought to be an amateur ensemble, closes the project with “I’m In His Care.” An accompanying CD booklet includes artist bios and photos.

My preference would be to hear this multi-CD compilation chronologically so as to experience an even greater appreciation of the progression of gospel music over the 23-year span. Yet, regardless of order, the disc set is filled with treats. The Ruth Beck Singers’ joyous “His Love Bubbles Over In My Soul” is one. Another is “Meet Me In the City,” which the Choraliers Singers of Dayton drive with all the intensity of a live performance. Likewise does Mary Lee Haynie sing with verve, leading the Gore Family on “By My Side.” Dionne Warwick’s rendering of James Cleveland’s “Jesus Will” with her family, The Drinkard Singers, is simply delightful.

Notini writes in the album notes, “From the very beginning of Christianity, certain Bible passages were used by the male clergy to justify the discrimination of women. Yet, while the men have dominated the leadership in the American black church, the females have held—and still hold—a crucial position in it.” As such, it seems wholly appropriate that “I Walked Out In Jesus Name,” penned by Evelyn and Mildred Gay and sung assertively by Christine Sykes (mother of Georgia Mass Choir founder Rev. Milton Biggham), is the title track for this project.

I walked right out in Jesus’ name
I’ve been falsely accused, so many times I bear the blame
I’m gon’ live a Christian life—I’m not ashamed
Yes, I’m gon’ talk, keep walking in my Jesus’ name

Notini’s curated selection of recordings for I Walked Out In Jesus Name – 1947–1970 showcases the genre’s big names as well as unsung greats. Notwithstanding my wish for a chronological listening journey, the presentations of these gospel classics from “The Black Gospel Ladies” worthily exemplify the enduring power of gospel music.

Favorites
“His Love Bubbles Over In My Soul” – “Meet Me In the City” – “Jesus Will”

Fever Meter
SMOKIN’ (4 of 5 Stars)

NEWS

Rance Allen Group earns its first-ever RIAA certified gold record

Rance Allen Group members Chris Byrd, Tom Allen, and Steve Allen, along with Murdella Wallace (sister of the group’s longtime road manager, Cecilia Wallace) accept their framed gold plaques.

After six decades of music, the Rance Allen Group has earned its first RIAA certified gold record.

The Recording Industry Association of America® (RIAA) closed 2023 with an armful of new gold and platinum certifications by the likes of Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Bobby Darin, and Justin Bieber. Among those new awards was a first-time certification for the Rance Allen Group’s classic track “Something About the Name Jesus” (Tyscot Records), which was certified gold for 500,000 sales on December 27, 2023. The song is from the legendary gospel group’s 2004 GRAMMY® Award nominated album, The Live Experience (Tyscot Records).

Rance Allen’s brothers Steve and Tom Allen; longtime producer, Chris Byrd; and Murdella Wallace, sister of the group’s longtime road manager, Cecilia Wallace, accepted the gold plaques during a recent Sunday morning service at New Bethel Bountiful Blessings church in Toledo, OH where Allen was the pastor from 1985 until his sudden death on October 31, 2020.

“Something About the Name Jesus” was written by Kirk Franklin with Rance Allen in mind. It was originally featured on Franklin’s 1998 full-length release, The Nu Nation Project, which featured the megahits “Revolution” and “Lovely Day.” That studio version featured Allen performing the tune alongside Isaac Carree and Lowell Pye. After a few years passed, the Rance Allen Group invited Franklin to appear on their own live rendition of the song which became just as big as the original version.

“Kirk was the artist of that time when he called and asked me to sing,” Allen recalled in a 2010 interview. “I had already decided that I wasn’t going to sing on anybody else’s project. When he called, I all of a sudden had a change of mind and said to myself, `Let me see what song he has for me.’ So, he sent me the song, `Something About The Name Jesus.’ When he sent it to me, the song didn’t have any verses. So, I’m listening to the chorus line, and I got back with him and said, `It doesn’t have any verses.’ He said he’d write them when I got there and that’s when he wrote the verses. So just like with ‘Miracle Worker,’ the audience demands that we sing that in every show.”

The Rance Allen Group has earned five GRAMMY® Award nominations and amassed over 250 million digital streams during its six-decade career. They started with Stax Record’s Gospel Truth imprint circa 1972 with soulful message songs such as “Ain’t No Need in Crying” and “Lyin’ on the Truth.” They also had six R&B chart singles, including the 1979 Top 25 gem, “I Belong to You.” From the 1980s on, Allen mixed music with ministry as he became a pastor in the Church of God in Christ denomination. The group reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart in 1992 with the album, Phenomenon, which featured the radio smash, “Miracle Worker.” In 2002, they signed to Tyscot Records, where they have enjoyed hits such as “Do Your Will,” “Closest Friend,” “You That I Trust,” and “Something About the Name Jesus.”

– From a press release

Karen Clark Sheard talks with Tamron Hall about new music, new granddaughter, Reunion tour

4x Grammy Award-winning gospel music icon, Karen Clark Sheard, stopped by the Tamron Hall Show to talk about The Reunion Tour, her family legacy, her newest granddaughter Khloé-Drew Kelly, new music and more.
Photo Credit: ABC/Jeff Neira

[NEW YORK, NY] December 13, 2023 — 4x Grammy Award-winning gospel music icon, Karen Clark Sheard, stopped by the Tamron Hall Show to talk about The Reunion Tour, her family legacy, her newest granddaughter Khloé-Drew Kelly, new music and more!

When asked about her granddaughter, she glows and describes Khloé-Drew as her “pride and joy right now”. She also discusses how her daughter, 4x Grammy-nominated artist Kierra Sheard is a “precious daughter” that is “so inspirational”.  Additionally, she credits her husband Bishop J. Drew Sheard as “the machine behind it all” and thanks God for blessing the Clark-Sheard family.  

Hall also mentions the powerful legacy that Sheard has contributed to the music industry as a whole with fans including Beyonce, Jay-Z, Chloe Bailey, Halle Bailey, and Mariah Carey who references The Clark Sisters as her favorite group of all time!  Sheard smiles and says, “as long as you’re giving a positive message, we’re all about sharing a message in this messy age…so whatever somebody is going through, listen, you’ve got to know a Jesus and a great God that will keep your atmosphere in check!”

The segment was concluded by a soul stirring performance of her new single, “Send it Down” that is now currently available on all streaming platforms.

From a media release

INTERVIEWS

Image of Melvin Crispell, III - Photo Credit Chris Cavanaugh

A Conversation with Melvin Crispell, III: ‘There is no failure in God’

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Image of Melvin Crispell, III. Photo credit by Chris Cavanaugh.

Melvin Crispell, III has emerged in gospel music as a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, and producer with fervor that resonates with the soul. 

Since winning the ninth season of BET’s Sunday Best in 2019, the 26 year-old’s musical journey has been one in which faith, resilience, and the joy of ministry intertwine. His late parents, Melvin Crispell, Jr. and Tunesha Crispell, were celebrated in the gospel industry as a composer and singer, respectively. His father worked with James Hall & Worship and Praise and wrote for Bishop Hezekiah Walker, among others. His mother was a lead vocalist with James Hall and a solo artist. Their only child was just a teenager when they passed less than two years apart. Crispell’s Sunday Best win became an instant springboard, launching him into a music career his beloved parents didn’t live to see, but are very much a part of. We delve into that later.

June marked the release of Crispell’s sophomore full-length project, No Failure, recorded live at Springhill Church in Garland, TX. The album’s first single, “Alright,” was nominated for a GMA Dove Award and the second single from the project, “God Is,” is up for a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance/Song. No Failure also gives the singer-songwriter his first executive producer credit alongside a team that includes producer D. Jamel Kimbrough, music director Elijah Goodwin, and contributions from KJ Scriven, Trinity Anderson, and Maverick City Music’s Chandler Moore.

GMF talked with Crispell by phone about No Failure as well as the passion and unwavering faith that define his gospel journey.

Let me start by congratulating you on your current Grammy nomination for “God Is.” This is your second Grammy nod. How does it feel to be recognized among your peers at that level?

It’s an unexplainable feeling to be able to be recognized on that level amongst so many other legends that are in the gospel music industry and in the secular world. Just to be recognized amongst everyone means the world to me and I still can’t believe it sometimes. 

“God Is” is from your project, No Failure, which is your second full-length album. 

Yes. My second album and my first live album. 

Melvin Crispell, III No Failure art work

Tell us about it and the growth you’ve seen in your musical journey between your first album (I’ve Got A Testimony) and this one. 

Yeah, so I really got to put my heart and soul into this one. And I got the opportunity to be an executive producer for this album. With that came a lot of hard work. I really got to see what all goes into when these artists would do live recordings. There are so many different moving parts to putting something together, and I really got to put my hands into the fire with this. I really spent a lot of long nights trying to figure things out, making sure things were right. Not striving for perfection, but for excellence. It was an amazing experience. And though it was a lot of hard work, it’s something that I definitely want to do again because I want to see how I can challenge myself to even do even more than what I’m doing now.

So No Failure is especially meaningful for you. (Smile)

This album is so special to me! Even the more being able to just be vulnerable with people and to create from my heart, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to do another album. Of course, I said that I did not want to do a live album at first. Now that I’ve done this one, I said, yeah, we need to do another one. I feel that we need to do another one. So it’s definitely an amazing experience and one that I won’t forget.

And the theme of No Failure revolves around the idea that there’s no failure in God, yes?

Absolutely.

What inspired you to bring this forward as the theme?

The inspiration behind that is while we were coming up with songs—we were trying to find two, and of course, we didn’t have the album title yet—God literally dropped two songs into my remembrance: “Here,” which is the first song on the album, and the title track, “No Failure.” And both of those songs were written in a writing session that was done by my church, Life Center Fellowship (in Charlotte) mere days before we had to be locked down for the pandemic. And so of course those songs were going to be recorded by my church; but due to the pandemic, we never got to record them and they were just sitting. And so God brought them back to my remembrance, and when we reviewed them and talked them over with the team, it all started flooding in like crazy like, this is the message that you want to relay to people on the Source of this whole album. 

And if you look at every song on this album, you can trace all of the stories back to the fact that there is no failure in God. We have to continue to trust in His plan because He hasn’t failed us yet. Things are not always the way that we want them to be, and we don’t have everything that we want, but God has given us everything that we need and he’s always taken care of us. 

Such an important message, especially coming out of the COVID pandemic. And to think that the songs were written just before the pandemic lockdown. 

Yes. Days prior.  

You know, it was just four years ago that you won Sunday Best. You’ve accomplished a lot in these few years. That experience had to have impacted you in ways you still reflect on.

That experience was unforgettable for me. It shaped my career in a way that’s given me confidence because I didn’t think I was qualified or even good enough to even make it past an audition for that show. That was just a mindset that I was in. It couldn’t be me to win something that big. And then when I got the call to be a part, I couldn’t believe it. And then from the moment I left my hometown, God had literally lined everything up in place.

Wait. You were not confident you would make the cut? That’s mind-boggling to me. How did you wind up auditioning? 

Sunday Best had been on hiatus. I had seen on social media that it was coming back for the ninth season, and I just kind of kept scrolling past it because, well, I used to want to [be a contestant on Sunday Best] when I was younger, but my parents would shun the very thought of it. (Laughs) I guess it’s because they were a part of the industry and they knew all it entailed, so they didn’t really want me to get thrown into it; so I kind of stopped watching it. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, as any kid would. But the show finally came [off hiatus] and a family member called me three times within a span of two weeks and said, “Hey, you need to audition for this show.” And then another family member came to me and said, “What have you got to lose? Just try.”  

It’s so interesting to hear that was your mindset because many of us who were sitting at home watching, the minute we saw you at the auditions, we were like, “Oh, he is going to win it.” It was a no-brainer for us.

You mentioned your parents, the late Melvin and Tunesha Crispell, and their industry presence. My gosh, they were celebrated figures in the gospel industry. And what I think is really precious is your intentionality about honoring their legacy in your music. What influence do you feel they continue to have on what you do? 

Yeah, it is definitely an honor to carry their legacy, and their legacy was not just music, but a legacy of love and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to people through music and whatever other means it may have been. And so that’s what I love to keep alive, even though they’re not here any longer. Of course, you have your moments where you feel like you could be living in their shadow, but I just feel like I didn’t have enough time with them to where I could actually say that because they were my world and I was so always inspired. Even as a young child, I was always inspired watching them do what they did, whether it was apart or whether it was together. And saying that, I mean that there were so many different avenues that they took to do what they did. It inspired me to say, there’s not just one way to do this, and you don’t have to do it just one way. There’s so much music they have that hasn’t even been released and I used to be a part of that music. That music was in my blood. I used to hear it going to sleep and waking up in the morning and all that stuff. That stuff was always on my mind and on my heart. 

And so now that they’re gone … why not carry their legacy and carry that piece of me with me because it’s a part of who I am. I keep them close to my heart. 

On your first album, you remade your dad’s composition, “Wonderful Is Your Name.” It shot to the top of the Billboard Gospel chart and got you Grammy and Dove nominations. It was a bop when Bishop Walker and the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir recorded it in the late ‘90s, and you elevated it when you recorded it two decades later. Now, on No Failure, you’ve remade “Jesus Is My Help,” another of your dad’s compositions that Bishop Walker and Love Fellowship popularized. 

It was an incredible feeling. I wish they were here to see all that God is doing. Even with my mom, there’s music of hers that hasn’t been heard yet—well, at least from me—which will be coming soon.

Say more about that!

Well, there is new music coming sooner than you think! And I got some other things down the pipeline where I kind of venture out and do more than just music. So I’m excited about that. I don’t want to share too much! But yeah, it’s a lot of things happening for me and I’m just grateful to God for what He’s doing. Life is amazing right now.

I’m grateful for you guys and your love and support. It means the world. I ask that you pray to Jesus for me in the coming years, that He just gives me grace and longevity and strength. And I’ll do my best to create even more for you guys to inspire you and to give you hope, and to give you joy [so] that you feel loved and special. And I just thank you guys so much.

No Failure is available on all major digital platforms.

Michael Gentry co-founder of Just Love In Person and creator of Gospel In Person documentary

Director Michael Gentry discusses creating ‘Gospel In Person’ documentary

Michael Gentry, creator, producer, and director of Gospel In Person documentary

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Erin Ganey-Hill, cultural arts program director at Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, had an idea, recounts Michael Gentry.

Over the years, Erin had witnessed how the community celebrated Black gospel music and its singers in their small city of Roxboro (population, roughly 8,100) and throughout Person County. Several quartet-styled groups regularly booked the Kirby to host their singing anniversaries or major programs, and Erin and the Person County Arts Council envisioned a project that would pay homage to the valuable legacy of music and culture in the community.

“Erin’s goal was to talk about the history of gospel [music], but from the standpoint of quartets,” Michael explains. “She wanted to celebrate the history of that [in Person County] and [the impact its] singers had.”

The culminating result is a feature-length documentary titled Gospel In Person. It premieres on Father’s Day at the Kirby Theater. Michael is the film’s creator, producer, and director.

Map of NC with Person County highlighted
Image Credit | Amy Rudersdorf

Gospel In Person chronicles over eight decades of the rich Black gospel music history found in Person County, located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, along Virginia’s border. Much of the history is told by the singers themselves, many of whom still travel the circuit singing God’s praises. In their vivid accounts, they also reminiscence about area legends who are no longer with us, such as Roosevelt Whitfield of the pioneering Silver Moon Quartet and his son, prolific singer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Whitfield; Martha Pettiford of the Joylettes; Leroy Cash of the Spiritual Lights; Victor Hester of another pioneering group, the Traveling Sextet; Willie Carrington of the Mighty Harmonaires; and many more. Additionally, the film features classic performances of the Mighty Gospel Travelers, Original True Lights, Spiritual Lights, Mighty Prophets, Joylettes, and others. And although they may not be household names beyond the region, their impact has created ripple effects throughout the broader gospel music scene, as their stories reveal.

Michael grew up in Person County and in church. Admittedly, he was more interested in playing basketball as a youngster than attending weekend gospel music programs. His parents, on the other hand, “know all about this music scene,” he asserts. “This is what they grew up in. Of course, as I grew in Christ and grew in ministry, as God had told me that my work would be in Person County, I developed an interest in wanting to get to know [some of these singers’ stories]. I just didn’t know that I would be called upon to do this.

The calling of which he speaks came about after Erin took notice of Just Love In Person, an organization Michael co-founded that is committed to strengthening Person County through acts of service powered by love. One way the organization does this is by sharing first-person narratives of people in the community with webisodes fittingly called “Just Love Stories.” The web series piqued Erin’s interest so much so that she jotted Markeith Gentry’s name down to contact about her idea. Markeith is the head of Gentry Visuals multimedia publishing company, the official publisher of Just Love In Person’s “Just Love Stories” series. He is also Michael’s younger brother. In the meantime, she ran it by fellow arts council board member Kim Hargrove. 

“So it just so happens that Erin asked Kim one day, ‘Hey, do you know Markeith Gentry? I need to find a way to get in touch with him,’” Michael recalls. What Erin did not know, he says, is Kim “is like my brother’s second mother.” 

It turns out Markeith’s schedule was full, but he had already been showing his big brother the ropes when it came to videography. Erin and Michael finally met in March 2022 and began developing the project.

The first Sunday in June, Michael visited New Hope Person Missionary Baptist Church in south-central Person County to invite its pastor to appear on “Just Love Stories.” “I went to the church—this is after I had met with Erin—and of course, who do I see? Dr. Libra Boyd. And that’s when I told you about this idea that the Kirby had. And you got on your phone, pulled up several pictures, and said, ‘Here are the people you have to contact. Here are some of the older groups.’”

One of the first people Michael contacted was David Ramsey, a renowned singer and bass guitarist who has been a member of several of the groups discussed in the Gospel In Person film. He is also a longtime radio personality and host of the David Ramsey Gospel Show on WRXO 1430 AM / WKRX 96.7 FM. “I started with David Ramsey, and he’s just a gold mine of knowledge.”

You’re going to
see a lot of things
that were not in
the stories we’ve
already [released]. . . .
We have not released
any information on
Facebook or in
these concerts about
maybe the most
talented gospel
singer in Person
County history.

Ambitiously, he went on to conduct interviews with more than 60 people for Gospel In Person and estimates working on the project an average of eight hours every day for just over one year. “But my soul was getting fed. My knowledge was being increased. So it was a labor of love—emphasis on love, not labor.” Still, the most demanding task may have been condensing nearly 100 hours of accumulated interview and archival footage into a suitable documentary length for one sitting. Gospel In Person runs approximately three hours and is divided into three parts. “From a quartet standpoint, you’re talking about probably 85 years of history.” 

And even though the film focuses on singers of the quartet style, both choirs and churches are acknowledged in this body of work because “all the quartets, for the most part, come directly from a church choir,” he points out. “They were in the choirs, even though they were singing full-time, you know, every weekend, all evening long. They were always in their churches on Sunday morning.”

Another eye-opener, one that blew him away as he collected stories and listened to audio and video recordings, was, “I believe all of these groups could have been professional. Traveling the country. Famous. And I think had these groups been in a larger city, they would have been. . . . You know, they weren’t just ‘Roxboro’ good. They weren’t just ‘North Carolina’ good. They were awesome. But not only that; they had relationships with professional groups. . . . ‘I’m coming through North Carolina. Can I come stay at your house?’ (laughs) The professionals knew them. Some of these singers were singing alongside professionals before they were professionals.” 

The Gospel In Person documentary rounds out the “Gospel In Person” series, which since the fall of 2022 has featured live concert performances of MG Music Group, the Torain Family, Just Us Guys, the Spiritual Lights, the Mighty Harmonaires, and John Thorpe and Truth. Concertgoers were treated to short documentaries spotlighting the headliners, but Michael is quick to emphasize that the full-length documentary is a new release and not a stringing together of the previously released short docs. “You’re going to see a lot of things that were not in the stories we’ve already [released]. . . . We have not released any information on Facebook or in these concerts about maybe the most talented gospel singer in Person County history.”

“Historic and monumental” is how the talented producer and director describes the significance of Gospel In Person; and yet, his prayers and hopes for it are profoundly humble.

“My prayer for [Gospel In Person] has been that it moves people spiritually because that’s [Just Love In Person’s] assignment; our assignment is to make a spiritual impact. I pray that it gets folks saved, revitalizes people, strengthens the spiritual work of quartets in Person County, and continues to strengthen the church community. I hope it encourages the active quartets to continue the work they’re doing and realize they’ve made an impact. And then my prayer is that people can know, understand, and appreciate what exists in our community. We have greatness all throughout. I hope people understand what is in these roots and see it as their responsibility to continue to feed these roots by producing more greatness. My main prayer is that God is glorified and the people are encouraged.

“I’m grateful that God called me to the work because it is, to me, it’s been the most important thing that I’ve really ever worked on.”

Flyer for Gospel In Person documentary film

Gospel In Person premieres Sunday, June 18, at Kirby Theater on 213 N. Main Street in Roxboro. Showtimes are 1 pm and 5:30 pm. Admission is FREE. GMF’s Libra Boyd appears in the film.

Editor’s Note: The group pictured on the graphic is The Mighty Gospel Travelers. Seated from left to right are the late Michael Whitfield, David Ramsey, and Stacey Pettiford. Standing from left to right are the late James Lunsford, Rev. McArthur Pettiford, the late Victor Hester, the late Burley Pettiford, and the late Freddie McGhee.

IN MEMORIAM

Kee Family Statement on the passing of Mother Lizzie Shannon Kee

Lizzie Shannon Kee, mother of John P. Kee, passes on

The Official Kee Family Statement on the passing of Mother Lizzie Shannon Kee

GMF extends its sincerest condolences to Pastor John P. Kee and the entire Kee family on the passing of Mother Lizzie Shannon Kee. The matriarch passed January 2, at the age of 97.

“Her hearts [sic] desire was for all of you to remember her for her beauty, her zest for learning and living life to the fullest. Always remember her voice, her smile, and the joys you brought to her life,” the Kee family shared in a statement.

A celebration of life service for Mother Kee took place Sunday, January 7, at New Life Fellowship in Charlotte, where her son pastors. A memorial service followed on Wednesday, January 10, at Durham’s Union Baptist Church.

Bishop Carlton Pearson, influential spiritual leader, dies

Bishop Carlton Pearson died November 19, 2023.

(November 19, 2023) Bishop Carlton D’Metrius Pearson, one of the most popular and influential preachers in America and around the world, who sacrificed everything for a message of unconditional love and acceptance by God, died peacefully the night of November 19, 2023, at the age of 70, after a brief battle with cancer that had returned after first defeating it 20 years ago. He was surrounded by his family.

Moving to Tulsa in 1971, to become a student at Oral Roberts University, Pearson was invited by Oral Roberts himself to join the World Action Singers on his nationally-aired TV specials, eventually becoming an associate evangelist with the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association in 1975.

In 1977, Pearson launched his own ministry, Higher Dimensions, Inc., traveling the country with a small ministry team. In 1981, with the help of his college roommate, Gary McIntosh, Carlton started Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center, with 75 people attending its first service in Jenks, Oklahoma. Quickly outgrowing the small, storefront location in Jenks, Higher Dimensions eventually settled at 8621 South Memorial Drive in Tulsa, becoming an integrated, multi-ethnic, cross-cultural congregation of more than 5,000 members.

A national television program launched in the mid-1980s, “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right,” expanded Pearson’s outreach to a national and international audience, becoming at that time one of only two African American preachers with a nationwide television ministry.

His annual AZUSA Conference, started in 1988, became an international movement, giving national exposure to a number of preachers and gospel singers, bringing together believers of all denominations, cultures, races and walks of life. The annual conference attracted as many as 70,000 people to Tulsa each year, generating tens of millions of dollars to the Tulsa economy during the week-long conference, as well as smaller weekend conferences held across the country each year, such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Jose, Tacoma, Buffalo and even Durban, South Africa.

His Live at AZUSA albums were nominated for multiple Dove and Stellar Awards, winning three Stellar Awards for Carlton Pearson Live at AZUSA 2: Precious Memories.

On the opening night of AZUSA ‘96, a group of pastors and bishops recognized his leadership by declaring him “a bishop in the Lord’s church.” The opening night of the following year’s conference, Bishop Pearson was officially consecrated in an ecclesiastical ceremony as the Presiding Bishop of the AZUSA Interdenominational Fellowship of Christian Churches and Ministries, establishing oversight of thousands of churches and ministries all over the world.

He gave counsel to multiple U.S. Presidents, as well as a number of international presidents, kings and other leaders, who were won over by his intelligence, charm, humor and kindness.

At the height of his popularity, Bishop Pearson had a shift in his theological beliefs, and began to preach that Jesus did not just die for and save Christians, but for all mankind, and that no one goes to hell as we’ve known it. This became known as “The Gospel of Inclusion,” a form of Christian theology known as universalism. This shift in belief caused churches, upon whose stages he once frequented, to close their doors to him, shut down his annual conference and caused his church to dwindle from thousands to only dozens.

His theological shift was dramatized in a major motion picture, Netflix’s Come Sunday, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave), Danny Glover (The Color Purple, Lethal Weapon), LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah, Atlanta) and Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, The West Wing).

Pearson’s message and example of unconditional love, though it gained him the moniker of “heretic” by some in the Christian church, had a whole new world opened to him as a result. Non-Christians, as well as Christians who had left the church as a result of church hurts, abuse, hypocrisy, etc., loved the new message of love, healing and restoration. He leaves a legacy of love through the multiplied thousands of lives he touched during his time on earth and the impartation of grace and mercy he preached and exhibited to everyone he encountered.

Public viewings begin Wednesday, November 29th, followed by celebration of life services in Tulsa on Thursday, November 30th and Friday, December 1st. An AZUSA Life Celebration service is set for December 18th in Atlanta. (The Atlanta service is free, but registration at www.azusacelebrationoflife.com is required for all in attendance.)

Information for each service is below.

Vernon Oliver Price singing

Homegoing celebrations set for Vernon Oliver Price

Homegoing celebrations start today for beloved gospel great, Vernon Oliver Price. Mother Price died on October 5, 2023. She was 93. 

In Price’s hometown of Chicago, a musical salute will be held this evening at the Greater Tabernacle Cathedral COGIC, with Pastor Angela Spivey as the host. Among those scheduled to pay tribute at the 7 p.m. service are Lemmie Battles, Pastor Derail Smith and the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Warriors, Dexter Walker and Zion Movement, LeAnne Faine, and Price’s sister and frequent singing partner, Mother Loretta Oliver. There will also be a public viewing from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m.

The final service takes place tomorrow at 10 a.m. at Abounding Life COGIC in Posen, IL, with a public viewing beginning at 9 a.m.

I met Mother Price several years ago in Chicago. She was just as delightful as I imagined. My experience was equally as memorable the last time we had an in-person conversation. I am one of many who will miss her, and I extend my prayers to her children, grandchildren, siblings, and the entire family.

Our friend Robert Marovich shares more about Mother Price’s life and ministry in The Journal of Gospel Music: RIP Pioneer Gospel Singer Vernon Oliver Price

Life of L. Stanley Davis to be celebrated with musical homegoing service

L. Stanley Davis

The life of L. Stanley Davis will be celebrated this Sunday, August 20, 2023, with a musical homegoing service at Chicago’s First Church of Deliverance. The service begins at 4 pm, with family hour and visitation one hour prior. Davis, 71, died on August 2, 2023.

I have traveled to Chicago on multiple occasions. Never have I visited without being in the presence of Professor Davis. He was a lover of gospel music and its history with the gift of gab and ability to recall historical information in acute detail. He is already greatly missed.

Here is an excerpt of the obituary from Cannon Funeral Services:

Lurell Stanley Davis was born April 4, 1952, in Baltimore, Maryland—the only child—born to the late William Lurell Davis and Annie Laura Winston Davis. Mrs. Davis helped to raise and nurture her late brother’s two children—Stanley’s first cousins Mena Suzette Winston and Reginald O. Winston of Washington, DC. Stanley was a bright, inquisitive, music-savvy boy who thrived in school and in his home church, the historic Morning Star Baptist Church. By age 7, Stanley’s love of being front-and-center in church sparked his budding musical talent on the piano, singing and directing. That early spotlight earned him local fame as the “church boy who does it all.

Stanley was also a standout student academically, earning a scholarship to attend the private and prestigious Friends School of Baltimore. Up late every Sunday evening, Stanley often recalled how he ended his busy Sundays by staying up till midnight east coast time to listen to the live 11 pm radio broadcast of First Church of Deliverance. He matriculated at Northwestern University in Evanston in the fall of 1969. Bingo, that set the stage for Stanley’s love affair with everything Chicago! As a college first-year student, Stanley frequently took CTA trains and buses all over Chicago to learn and experience the city’s rich variety of different Black worship experiences and their unique musical styles. Already a gospel music savant from Baltimore, Stanley used Chicago as a living classroom. The excited, musically gifted teenager continued growing his encyclopedic knowledge and talent as a gospel performer, musician, director, teacher, historian and eventually a renowned expert—affectionately known as Professor L. Stanley Davis. Stanley used his trademark “bigger-than-life” personality, his broad easy smile, and his genuine nature to listen and learn from others while using his compassion to uplift and motivate just about anyone who ever crossed his path in this lifetime. Stanley proudly proclaimed, “I march to a different drummer’s beat.” In the process, Stanley became lifelong personal friends with Chicago’s gospel royalty—Julia Mae Kennedy, Ralph Goodpasture, the “Father of Gospel” Thomas A. Dorsey, the Barrett Sisters, Rev. Milton Brunson, Audrea Lenox, Albertina Walker, Sallie Martin, and Vernon Oliver Price. The teenage devotee’s most defining move was joining the nation’s oldest, premiere community choir, the fabled Wooten Choral Ensemble (WCE).

By the end of his sophomore year in college, Stanley’s Chicago discovery slowed down. Dr. Eileen Cherry-Chandler and Clifton Gerring, III, then both fellow Northwestern University upper-class students, finally convinced Stanley to become the founding artistic director of the Northwestern Community Ensemble (NCE) on May 8, 1971. Stanley proudly credited his musical blueprint for NCE directly from his firsthand experience with the WCE playbook. Stanley insisted NCE perform more than just gospel music—just like his beloved time in the Wootens. He demanded a repertoire of mastering, without sheet music in hand, anthems, Negro spirituals, and classic church hymns. After 53 years, Stanley’s musical dream continues to fill a spiritual void on Northwestern’s predominately white campus and throughout the Chicago community. NCE celebrated 52 years in May 2023, and is moving forward to celebrate “55 years of Stanley’s dream and legacy” in May 2026.

Musical homegoing flyer

After graduating from Northwestern in 1974 with a degree in Sociology with a focus on Urban Affairs, Stanley excelled in two high-tech corporate gigs with the old Illinois Bell Telephone Company and Montgomery Wards Signature Group. But by the late ‘70s, Stanley refocused his professional career on Black sacred music and teaching. Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne recruited noted Chicago Tribune music and arts critic and lecturer of music at Northwestern, Thomas Willis, to draft a plan for an International Music Festival. Willis tapped young Stanley to help him develop the plan. Tom and Stanley by this time were old music colleagues. When Willis taught Stanley in his music appreciation class in 1972, he turned a 15-minute presentation assignment on gospel music into a fact-filled, interactive hour. A stickler for details, Stanley concluded his presentation over three more entire class sessions later. Still as a Northwestern undergraduate student, Willis offered Stanley to teach six for-credit courses on the gospel music tradition, which included mandatory field trips to Chicago church services! From that humble teaching start, the Professor shared his ever-growing wealth of gospel, ethnic music knowledge, and performance studies as an adjunct instructor at Chicago’s Loyola University, University of Chicago, and DePaul University.

In the early ’90s, Northwestern invited Stanley back as a graduate student with a joint appointment to teach history and music in the African American Studies Department (now known as the Global Black Studies Department) and in the Bienen School of Music. While present on campus he became a faculty advisor/voice coach to his baby, NCE. In June 1997, Stanley earned his Master of Arts degree.

Over the years Stanley has achieved several firsts under the broad musical umbrella organization he created, Gospel Arts Workshop (GAW).

The full obituary can be viewed here.

GMF joins countless others in prayer for the family, friends, colleagues, and mentees of Professor L. Stanley Davis.