R.I.H. Andrea Marie Brown of The Brown Sisters of Chicago

Andrea Brown of the Brown Sisters of Chicago

Andrea Marie Brown of the Chicago-based gospel act, The Brown Sisters of Chicago, passed away on September 30, 2021, of COVID-19. The group shot to fame in the gospel world with their self-titled 2009 debut album that featured, “Awesome God,” a Billboard Top 20 radio single. “We are saddened by the loss of Andrea `Lil Bit’ who was a beautiful person inside and out, and was an amazing musical talent,” says Joan Sullivan of Kingdom Records. 

The baby of a family with five daughters and a son, Brown was born August 21, 1968. Her mother, Alberta, was a school teacher and her father, Ben, was the pastor of The Pillar of Truth C.O.G.I.C. assembly in Chicago. Early on, the siblings launched a gospel group under the name of The Brown Singers. It consisted of the sisters Vanessa, Adrienne, Phyllis, Lavette, and Andrea. Their brother, Zachary, played in their band. They sang at church functions throughout the community.

Brown graduated from Curie Metropolitan High School, and later from Pittsburgh’s Robert Morris University in 1988. Over the years, she gave piano lessons and played keyboards at local churches such as The Corinthian Temple C.O.G.I.C./The Cathedral of Praise.

As The Brown Sisters of Chicago, their dynamic stage performances won them big-name fans such as gospel legend, Inez Andrews, who introduced them to a concert promoter who booked them throughout Europe. They went on to share bills with the likes of Mavis Staples, Bobby McFerrin, and Aretha Franklin. From 1994 to 1999, They also served as the house vocal group for the syndicated TV program, “Testify,” which filmed in Chicago.

After years of performing and releasing a custom album in Europe, their American debut, The Brown Sisters: Live in Chicago, was released by Kingdom Records in 2009. The radio single, “Awesome God,” peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Gospel Airplay chart. “The harmonies are impeccable…The passion and sincerity pouring from these songs uplift the spirit while feeding you a helping of encouragement and unretained hope,” a music critic wrote of the album in Worship Leader magazine. In 2010, they won Best Gospel Entertainer of the Year and Best Gospel Album of the Year awards at the Chicago Music Awards.

Brown was predeceased by her brother Zachary and her sister, Phyllis, who both passed away from cancer. Donations can be sent to Andrea’s parents Ben & Alberta Brown,  6533 North Avenue, Oak Park, IL 60302, or via CashApp ($AdrienneBrown).

The funeral will take place Saturday, October 16, 2021, at Greater Harvest Baptist Church, 5141 S. State Street, Chicago, IL 60609. The wake is 9:30 AM and the service is 10:30 AM.

– From a news release

Lee Williams of the Spiritual QC’s dies at 75 [Arrangements Added]

Lee Williams of the Spiritual QC’s has died. The quartet great’s death was announced Monday, August 30, on the group’s official Facebook page.

“It is with our deepest sorrow that we announce the passing of our fearless leader, Dr. Lee Williams,” the post read. “We thank God for allowing him to Stop By On His Way Home, and though he has moved from his temporary house, the love, the memories and the music will linger on. We will always remember that to Give Up is not an option if we want to be Welcomed Home.”

Despite health challenges in recent years, Williams continued to perform with the QC’s until retiring in 2018. (Read “Living Legends Concert” honors Lee Williams & The Spiritual QC’s as Williams readies for retirement.) In 2011, Williams commented to GMF that he intended to travel and minister with the multi award-winning Tupelo-based group “as long as [God] lets me.”

Our deepest sympathy is with the entire Williams family, the Spiritual QC’s, and the gospel music community. A man of remarkable talent, resoluteness, and humility is now at rest. A memorial service sponsored by the City of Tupelo is set for 4 PM CT on Saturday, September 11, at Gumtree Park. The homegoing celebration takes place Sunday, September 12, at the BancorpSouth Arena at 1 PM CT. Additional details are on the flyer below.

Lee Williams' final service arrangements

Journal of Gospel Music’s Bob Marovich wrote a brief bio of Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC’s that you can read here.

Pastor Cassandra Elliott, worship leader known as ‘purpose pusher,’ dies at 53

GMF was saddened to learn about the passing of Pastor Cassandra Elliott, popular worship leader known by many as the “Purpose Pusher.” Pastor Cassandra transitioned June 27, 2021, after battling health challenges. Our condolences are with her husband Pastor Bryant Elliott and the entire family.

Excerpt from Pastor Cassandra’s site:

Pastor Cassandra Elliott, also known as the “Purpose Pusher” and the “Giant Slayer” is a walking example of the Five Fold Ministry. A native of New York City, Elliott began playing music at a young age; this passion unfolded into accepting the call as a Pastor of Worship, teaching the word of God, and becoming an innovator and mentor to many. She is a survivor of kidney disease and breast cancer and has used both of these testimonies as a vehicle to encourage others through the preached, taught, and imparting Word of God. In 2016, Elliott launched out into the world of Periscope launching “Morning Manna,” a time of real talk, inspiration, and coaching. Most recently Elliott launched out again into the arena of coaching with her debut of Elliott Consulting.

Pastor Cassandra was also the founder of The Gathering, a worship conference held yearly in North Carolina that drew hundreds.

Homegoing services held for Madeline Thompson of the Clara Ward Singers

Photo Credit: Richard Nichols

Homegoing services for Madeline Thompson took place recently in Inglewood, CA. Lady Thompson, a longtime member of the Clara Ward Singers best known for her spirited rendition of “Traveling Shoes,” passed away May 22, 2021.

“Traveling Shoes: A Commemorative Cantata,” was the first of two celebrations for the singer on June 6. The next day’s four-hour Celebration of Life service included the reunion of the Clara Ward Singers, offering a musical salute with their hit “Surely, God Is Able” as well as “Sweeping Through the City,” borrowed from the Caravans’ catalog.

You can read more about Madeline Thompson at lasentinel.net. GMF continues to send up prayers for the Thompson family.

Pervis Staples of The Staple Singers Dies

Pervis Staples, Co-Founder of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, The Staple Singers, Passes Away at the Age of 85

Pervis pictured with sister Mavis in 2017

Pervis Staples, a co-founding member of the legendary gospel group, The Staple Singers, passed away suddenly on May 6, 2021, at his home in Dolton, Illinois according to Adam Ayers, a member of Mavis Staples’ 525 Worldwide Music management team. He was 85 years old. Beginning in 1956 with “Uncloudy Day” on Chicago’s Vee Jay Record label and stretching into the early 1980s, the Staple Singers were one of the most influential acts in gospel, soul, and social protest music. Their signature songs such as “Uncloudy Day,” “Why Am I Treated So Bad,” “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” are hailed as soul music masterpieces.

Pervis Staples was born November 18, 1935, in Drew, Mississippi. His family moved to Chicago for economic opportunities, and he was raised on the city’s Southside where his guitar-playing father, Roebuck “Pop” Staples, started teaching his children gospel songs to entertain them and occupy their time. Eventually, word spread throughout the Chicago church community about the singing family, and they cut their first recordings for a local label, United Records. However, it’s when they started recording for Vee Jay Records that they gained a national following with rootsy songs such as “So Soon,” “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and “Uncloudy Day” – which has been reported to have sold a million copies.

The early Staples sound was constructed around Pop Staples’ lite tenor and his understated, blues-influenced guitar playing. Surrounding it, was his teenaged daughter, Mavis’ raspy contralto; his daughter, Cleotha’s soprano; and son Pervis’ warm tenor.  “Pervis’ childhood was filled with wonderful experiences,” Mavis Staples remembers. “He liked to think of this period of his life as setting the stage for all that he wanted to do in life. Some of Pervis’ best friends as a youngster included Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, and Jerry Butler. Pervis and the guys would stand under the lamp posts in the summertime singing doo-wop songs.”

The Staple Singers, circa 1953

Mavis’ unusually low voice on most of the songs led many to assume that was Pervis singing. “We’d trick ‘em,” Pervis told journalist Greg Kot in his Mavis Staples biography, I’ll Take You There (Scribner). “The audience would be looking for me to come up with the low part – this was for the people who heard the record but had never seen us before, I’d come up to the mike and switch over at the last second where Cleotha was, then Mavis would step up. That messed them up, but it woke up the crowd.”

After graduating from the Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, Pervis served in the U.S. Army where he served with the Field Evaluation Agency and was a member of the U.S. Army Choral Group. While he was away from the group, his sister, Yvonne, stepped in to sing. After he was honorably discharged, he returned to the group.

Pop Staples had routinely turned down offers for the group to record R&B music as he felt it was a conflict with his faith. Pervis witnessed friends such as Lou Rawls and Sam Cooke crossover and he kept nudging his father to expand the group’s repertoire. The compromise was message music after they signed with Riverside Records in 1961. The family became fast friends with folk artists like Bob Dylan on the festival circuit. Pervis and Dylan were close. In Kot’s book, Pervis recalled Dylan showing him the song, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” at the President Hotel in 1962.  He lobbied Pop Staples to let the family record it. He did and it was done as a duet between Mavis and Pervis for the 1966 LP, This Little Light of Mine (Epic Records).  Although Mavis opened the song, Pervis led the bulk of it in a smooth, mellow, and commanding voice that was reminiscent of his father’s but uniquely his own. Another stand-out solo for Pervis was his lead on The Staple Singers’ remake of Hank Williams’ 1952 cut, “Be Careful of the Stones You Throw,” on their 1965 LP, Amen (Epic Records). Underneath a gentle southern-blues melody, Pervis recites the song in a pleasing tone as his sisters provide urgently earnest background vocals for the morality tale about a young girl who is killed saving the child of a woman who had gossiped about her.

Pervis’ last album with The Staple Singers was their first for Stax Records, Soul Folks in Action (Stax Records), in 1968. The album featured new songs such as “The Ghetto” and their interpretations of tunes like Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and The Band’s “The Weight.” In Kot’s book, Steve Cropper, an iconic session musician at Stax Records, credited Pervis with helping him with production on the album. “If I had an idea, he would work with the girls and stretch the idea,” he said. “He would become the band leader, work with them over and over. Every idea wouldn’t work right away, so he’d work on it until they got it right.”

Pervis is also featured on duets with Carla Thomas on “I’m Trying” and “It’s Unbelievable How You Control My Soul” for the LP, Boy Meets Girl (Stax Records), in 1969. He also appeared on the all-star, “Soul-A-luja,” track that featured Stax artists such as Johnnie Taylor, William Bell, and Mavis Staples. It’s during this period that Pervis left the group to begin managing another Chicago act, The Hutchinson Sunbeams, who later became known as The Emotions.  He was involved with several business ventures, including Perv’s House, a successful nightclub that was one of the most popular nightlife spots on the south side in the 1970s. 

The Staple Singers were awarded the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 1992. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. They were also inducted into the Nashville-based Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2018. “Pervis was one of a kind- comical and downright fly,” Mavis Staples recalls.  “He would want to be remembered as an upright man, always willing to help and encourage others.  He was one of the good guys and will live on as a true Chicago legend.”  

Staples was preceded in death by his parents, Roebuck and Oceola; three sisters, Cynthia, Cleotha, and Yvonne.  He is survived by his sister, Mavis Staples. He also leaves six children: Gwen Staples, Reverly Staples, Perleta (George) Sanders, Pervis Roe Staples, Paris Staples, Eala Yvonne (Michael) Sams; seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. 

Pervis Staples’ funeral services will be held Monday, May 17, 2021, in the King’s Chapel at Leak & Son’s Funeral Homes, 7838 South Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, IL. The wake is 10 AM and the funeral is 11 AM.

– via press release

R.I.P. Carman Licciardello, CCM Trailblazer

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (February 16, 2021) – GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame member, Carman, passed away Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at a Las Vegas, Nevada hospital, after fighting a series of complications resulting from surgery to repair a hiatal hernia. 

Carman Dominic Licciardello, known to fans worldwide as “Carman,” was 65.

Born January 19, 1956 in Trenton, New Jersey, Carman began his musical career playing drums in his mother’s band at the age of 15. Carman holds the world record for having the largest audience to see a single Christian artist. He set the record for the largest concert at Texas Stadium with more than 71,000 fans and led more than 80,000 fans in worship in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Among his many awards, Carman received the House of Hope of Humanitarian Award for his positive influence in the lives of American youth in 2006, other noted recipients of this award include Ronald & Nancy Reagan and Billy Graham. The Gospel Music Association honored Carman with induction into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2018. Billboard named Carman “Contemporary Christian Artist of the Year” in 1992 and 1995, and in 1993, his album, Addicted to Jesus, earned the distinction of Contemporary Christian Album of the Year. Carman was Grammy-nominated multiple times as the Best Pop Contemporary Gospel Artist. His recording, “A Long Time Ago in a Land Called Bethlehem” was nominated for “Album of the Year” by the Recording Academy in 1986.

In 1985, the release of his first #1 song, “The Champion,” solidified his place in music history and defined his soul-winning career as one of endurance, grit, dedication, and pure talent. Anyone who knew Carman knows that he counted only this as his greatest lifetime achievement – winning millions of souls to Christ.

Matt Felts, Carman’s manager, states, “When Carman resumed touring again a few years ago, he was concerned that no one would care that he was back. He was wrong. Every night fans packed out venues and his ministry was as powerful as it ever was. This world has lost a light in the darkness but today Carman saw first hand the fruit of his labors.

Carman was planning to embark on a 60-city tour later this month.

– From a press release

Celebration of Life service for singer-songwriter-choir director Dr. Douglas Miller set for Feb. 15

Douglas Miller announcement
Douglas Miller Celebration of Life Flyer

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

A Celebration of Life service is being held today (Feb. 15) for Grammy-nominated gospel singer Dr. Douglas Miller. Miller died Feb. 5, 2021. Among the baritone’s most recognizable songs are “Unspeakable Joy,” his uptempo choir arrangement of “Pass Me Not,” and his signature, “My Soul Has Been Anchored in the Lord.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the memorial service is private. The public at-large can view the live stream at douglasmillerlegacy.com. Additional details are on the announcement above.

You can read more about Dr. Miller’s career from Bob Marovich at the Journal of Gospel Music. 

GMF extends deep condolences to the family, friends, and supporters of one of gospel music’s greats.

Evangelist Duranice Pace of The Anointed Pace Sisters dies at 62 [Arrangements Added]

Originally published Jan. 15, 2021 at 7:11 PM
Updated Feb. 7, 2021 at 8:22 AM

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Evangelist Duranice Pace, member of family group The Anointed Pace Sisters, passed Thursday (Jan. 14, 2021) from health complications. She was 62. GMF extends sincere condolences to the family during this understandably difficult time.

Pace had a soaring, soulful voice and sound that were inimitable. She experienced recurring Internet virality, especially since Thanksgiving 2017 (see related post, “‘I’ll Always Be Thankful’ – Duranice Pace ft. The Pace Family”), for her holiday singing at Pace family gatherings and for her on-the-spot encouragement in song to people in restaurants, retail stores, and airports.

In November 2020, many fans and followers learned Evangelist Pace was hospitalized when her sister and niece posted live Facebook videos showing family members visiting, singing, and praying with her from outside a hospital window on Thanksgiving Day. Since then, the family, including Evangelist Pace’s only son, DeMarcus Love, has continued to ask the public for prayer. Supporters of the preaching songstress were also invited to encourage her by posting themselves on her social media platforms singing their favorite Duranice Pace song.

Biographical information posted on the Church of God In Christ International Mass Choir Facebook page reads:

Born May 13, 1958, in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in a small community called Poole Creek to the union of Superintendent Murphy Pace, Jr. [d. 2008] and Bettie Pace [d. 2020], Evangelist Duranice Pace was destined and preordained to sing His praises and to preach and teach the Word as a dynamic woman of God.

The second-born child of ten children in all (brother, Bishop Murphy Pace, III transitioned in 2011), Evangelist Pace grew up singing in school and community talent shows while traveling from church to church singing and making hearts glad with her unique, strong, God-given voice. She graduated from the Walter F. George High School in Atlanta, Georgia. She continued her education at the O.R.M. Word Processing School in Atlanta and also Andrew College in LaGrange Georgia where she majored in music under a music scholarship.

Together, Evangelist Pace and her eight sisters (Phyllis, June, Lashun, Melonda, Dejuaii, Leslie, Latrice and Lydia) joined to form the legendary, iconic gospel group, The Anointed Pace Sisters. These extraordinary women of God have been nominated [for] and performed at the Stellar Awards [and have made] appearances in blockbuster movies such as “The Fighting Temptations” with Beyoncé Knowles and Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Family Reunion.”

The Anointed Pace Sisters released five albums during their tenure: 1992’s “U-Know” with Savoy Records, 1995’s “My Purpose” again with Savoy, then 2003’s “It’s Already Done” by their own label Gospel Pace, 2006’s “Return” by Tyscot Records, and 2009’s “Access Granted” from Tyscot Records. The group’s albums “U-Know,” “My Purpose,” “Return,” and “Access Granted” charted on the Billboard Gospel Albums chart. Recently, The Anointed Pace Sisters were blessed with the opportunity to use their voices on numerous commercials for Jiffy Lube International, Incorporated. Evangelist Pace also enjoyed travel as a featured vocalist with Ambassador Dr. Bobby Jones and his Nashville Super Choir.

In January 2020, Evangelist Pace’s autobiography, “Poison to Purpose: A Gospel Legend’s Journey” was released on Noah’s Ark Publishing. The famed gospel singer also released a few solo projects independently, including 2013’s “Just Duranice,” and 2019’s “The Making of A Solider.”

A daughter of the Church Of God In Christ, Evangelist Pace was a Jurisdictional Elect-Lady of Evangelism and National Evangelist, who has been blessed to minister to U.S. & Korean soldiers. Evangelist Pace has traveled across this country and around the world preaching and singing for God. Evangelist Pace also founded The Anointed Word Restoration Fellowship Church in Christiansburg, Virginia.

In addition to her sisters, Evangelist Pace leaves to cherish her legacy her only begotten son, Mr. DeMarcus Wardell Love, along with a great host of nieces, nephews, cousins, her fellow gospel artists, and industry friends.

In 2013, Evangelist Pace and her sisters were featured on OWN’s Iyanla: Fix My Life. They appeared on the show again in 2019. Her other recent appearances included an emotional interview and performance on Steve Harvey’s talk show Steve, also in 2019, and an interview on TV One’s Sister Circle Live last year.

Steve Harvey reflected Thursday on Twitter. “Duranice Pace spoke favor into my life one day, at a time when I really needed it. She was one of those special souls. Rest In Peace”

“I’m inspired because I love people, and it makes me happy to see people smile,” Evangelist Pace told VoyageATL last March. “This is why I call my business a healing ministry because people ask me to help heal them and make them feel better. I know it’s not coming from me, but from God and I’m so thankful that I can help touch people’s hearts.”

“Whether you knew my mom thirty years or thirty minutes, you know you felt the love of God through her,” said her son DeMarcus to 11Alive News Friday. “The love Mom gave, she gave to everyone. Love is and will forever be her legacy.”

There will not be a public viewing or homegoing service. A privately recorded virtual concert celebrating Evangelist Pace’s life will premiere Tuesday, February 9, at 8 PM ET on duraniceapace.com. The celebration features performances by LaShun Pace, Le’Andria Johnson, DeMarcus Love, Leslie Pace, Bishop Kervy Brown, Kevin Lemons, and others.

Val Alexander of The Gospel Keynotes remembered as ‘influencer’ and ‘mentor’

Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Val Alexander, a longtime guitarist and member of The Gospel Keynotes, died December 15, 2020.

According to his obituary:

Val Alexander, Jr. was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Val Alexander, Sr. and Elizabeth Emanuel Alexander. He was born and raised in the city of Greensboro and is a Class of 1967 Graduate of Dudley High School. He was married to Beatrice Alexander who preceded him in death. He was the youngest of nine children. His mother gave him a guitar for Christmas when he was a teenager. He taught himself to play and used his talent to bless people throughout the United States and around the world. He is one of the Original Gospel Keynotes.

He and his wife Beatrice lived in New Jersey for a period of time until they decided to settle down in Union Springs, Alabama to be close to her mother. To their union they had one daughter Simone Alexander. He left Union Springs and relocated to Greensboro (NC) in 1997 when his mother became ill. He came off the road of singing gospel music to take care of his mother and was able to gain employment working for the Industries of the Blind where he served as Assistant Supervisor. He also continued to play for the Original Gospel Keynotes part-time.

Upon returning to Greensboro he used his skill of playing the guitar to teach, promote and play for local groups as well as his church Mt. Pleasant Christian Church Disciples of Christ for which he had been a member since 1963. He played for the Mattie Alston and the Voices of Praise, The Sons of Zion, The True Tones, The JJ Gospel Singers, and the Harmonizing Five to mention a few. Val was a loving and devoted husband, father, son, brother, and uncle. He was very humble and quiet and soft-spoken.

Some years ago when I first met Val, he shared with me that he traveled with Willie Neal Johnson and The Gospel Keynotes – whose notable songs include “Show Me the Way” and “Jesus, You’ve Been Good to Me” – for approximately 25 years. I continued to see him every year when he came to the church where I serve as minister of music. Without fail, he’d come to where I was, shake my hand, and share a word of encouragement. Eventually, he asked me about collaborating on some music he was working on for an upcoming project. As we now see, our plans are not always God’s plans.

In recent years, I took notice of him again traveling and playing with the Original Gospel Keynotes. Watching him was watching a legend who influenced many present-day guitar greats.

Criss “Righteous” Johnson, longtime guitarist for Pastor Shirley Caesar posted on Facebook, “Mr. ‘Val Alexander’ from one of the greatest ‘Quartet Gospel’ singing groups of all time….(The Country Boy) ‘Willie Neal Johnson And The Gospel Keynotes’ of Tyler, Tx.” He included the hashtag #whatanincredibleinfluencer✊?.

Kevin Wilson, CEO and founder of the International Musicians Summit, also offered reflections on social media. “Val Alexander, Sugar Hightower, Spanky Alford & Al Dent are musicians and friends I’ve had the honor of sharing the stage with! I truly miss all of them. Rest well Val-e Joe!!! I’ll never forget the years we shared music and ideas. #Legends”

“Rest Well Mr. Val Alexander,” shared multi-genre guitarist Fitz McGill on Facebook. McGill, who has worked with Tyler Perry and Kelly Price, among others, continued, “For those of you that don’t know who this man is he was the guitarist for the Quartet group The Gospel Keynotes. Starting around the age of 9 years old when My father would take me to the quartet programs he would convince the promotor [sic] to allow me to be the opening act. Mr. Val starting sowing chords and encouragement backstage that pushed me to excel as a guitarist. Throughout the years of life, he would mentor, teach, and show me little things about the guitar and pedals. Thank you brother for all you sowed into our lives. My condolences to the family and the community of Quartet Music.”

Pastor John P. Kee took to Instagram to pay tribute as well, noting, “He was so kind to me when I entered the industry!”

I join countless others in sending prayers up for the Alexander family and all who grieve the passing of Val, a humble man who now rests from labor.

Ora Watkins-Jones of the Southwest Michigan State Choir of COGIC passes on

Ora Watkins-Jones
Photo from Clora Funeral Home

GMF was sad to learn of the passing of Ora Watkins-Jones, perhaps best known as a lead vocalist for the Southwest Michigan State Choir of the Church of God in Christ, under the direction of Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. Her family certainly is in our thoughts and prayers during this emotional time.

Read more from Bob Marovich at the Journal of Gospel Music.