Haywood Barnes of the Sunset Jubilaires passes on

GMF extends sympathy to the Barnes family in the passing of Mr. Haywood Barnes on August 14, 2023, at the age of 82.

Haywood was a longtime member of the Sunset Jubilaires, organized by his brother, the late Bishop F.C. Barnes. According to Bishop Barnes in a bio on the Red Budd Holy Church website, “After I was called into the ministry and began pastoring, it took me away from the group, so my brother Haywood took over as lead singer.”

Haywood Barnes leads “I’m Going On” with the Sunset Jubilaires while other quartet greats look on.

Haywood’s nephew, Rev. Luther Barnes, eventually became the Jubilaires’ primary lead singer with Haywood continuing to share both lead and background chores. Other Barnes family members also rounded out the lineup.

A public viewing is scheduled for Saturday, August 19, at 10 am at Red Budd Holy Church in Rocky Mount, NC. The celebration of life service follows at 11.

Celebration of life flyer for Haywood Barnes

Homegoing services announced for Rev. Thomas Spann, founding member of Brooklyn Allstars

Thomas Spann of the Brooklyn Allstars died August 10, 2023.

Homegoing services have been announced for Rev. Thomas Spann, founding member of the Brooklyn Allstars. Rev. Spann transitioned on August 10, 2023. He was 98. 

A musical celebration takes place Friday, August 18. The celebration of life service follows on Saturday, August 19, with viewing prior to the service. Both services will be held at New Light Missionary Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC, and streamed live on the Serenity Funeral Home Cremation Live YouTube page.  Further details are available on the Serenity Funeral Home and Cremations website.

GMF joins the gospel community in extending condolences to his wife Donna, the entire Spann family, and the Brooklyn Allstars.

In June 2013, I interviewed Rev. Spann prior to a concert featuring the Brooklyn Allstars in Roxboro, NC. In his memory, a portion of the interview is reprinted below.

Brooklyn Allstars’ Thomas Spann reflects on “signature sound that I didn’t realize I had”

A fan approaches Rev. Thomas Spann sporting a wide grin and extending a slightly trembling hand, hailing, “The Legend! The Legend!” Rev. Spann graciously returns the gesture, “My man! Good to see you,” making apparent that he appreciates his supporters as much as they appreciate him. Admiration for the quartet veteran is immediately perceivable by the number of fan interruptions that continue throughout our early evening interview just prior to one of the Brooklyn Allstars’ concerts.

Rev. Spann tells me he organized the Brooklyn Allstars in 1948. Since then, he has worked the gospel circuit with his group’s instantaneously recognizable styling, which is directly attributed to his own bass vocals. Along the way, they’ve racked up a couple of gold records (“They say they were gold; I just say they were good,” Rev. Spann interjects) and toured extensively. Now, at 88 years old, Rev. Spann is assisted by a cane and sits onstage with mic in hand during some of the group’s mild numbers such as “No Cross, No Crown.” But you can rest assured that his voice still booms and when the Spirit moves him on tunes like “Stood on the Banks of Jordan,” he springs from his chair to join in with group member Sonny McClary, with whom he now shares lead tasks. Theirs is a sound that stands apart in traditional quartet music.

“I guess that’s what I say the longevity or success of the group is attributed to—the signature sound that I didn’t realize I had for a lot of years until I got a chance to compare it to a lot of other artists; then I realized it was so different that I decided to change it one time,” reflects Spann. He admits that the group almost lost its following when he tried to alter it.

“I was rejected; I had no idea I had that many fans, and I didn’t know that that many people cared one way or another, you know, about what we were doing.”

They still care. As a matter of fact, their loyal fan base is what keeps them going more than six decades later. 

Prayers requested in the passing of Tyrone Porter

Tyrone Porter family requests prayers

GMF extends sympathy to the family and friends of Tyrone Porter, founding member of the Christianaires who later went on to serve as chairman of the Quartet Division of the Gospel Music Workshop of America. Porter passed away February 14, 2023. He is already missed and is being remembered for his leadership, advocacy, and love toward others.

Read more from Bob Marovich at The Journal of Gospel Music: RIP: Tyrone Porter, Member Of The Christianaires, President Of The GMWA Quartet Division

Celebration of Life announcement

Viewing prior to the Celebration of Life service on Saturday, February 25th will begin at 10 am at St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Brookhaven, MS. The service will follow at 11 am.

Michael Mathis, music director for Pastor Shirley Caesar, dies

Michael Mathis

GMF was saddened early Sunday afternoon (Feb. 12) to learn of the sudden passing of musician, songwriter, and producer Michael Mathis.

Michael’s music career spanned decades, during which he wrote songs performed by Dorothy Norwood, Leanne Faine, Albertina Walker, Anthony Hill, and others. During his lengthy career, he amassed scores of production credits and won a Grammy in 2001 for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album as a producer on Pastor Shirley Caesar’s album You Can Make It

His most notable collaborations have indeed been alongside Pastor Caesar as her longtime music director, producer, and songwriting partner. His extensive list of songwriting credits for the queen of gospel includes “He’s Working It Out For You,” “Heaven,” and “You Can Make It,” along with “I Remember Mama” and “You’re Next in Line for a Miracle,” on which he is co-writer.

A superb organist, Michael also served at Raleigh’s Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Church, where Caesar is the senior pastor. “We thank you, Lord,” she expressed in prayer at the conclusion of Sunday’s service, “for allowing him to touch my life for over 40 some years.”

In a heartfelt post on her Facebook page early Wednesday morning, Caesar shared:

Today, my heart is really bleeding because of the loss of my son, my friend, my co-worker, my musical director, Minister Michael E. Mathis.

​I am in such disbelief because Michael was one who did everything right. He was a vegetarian, he exercised, walked five miles daily, he took care of his body. In all of the years that I have known him, he has never been sick.  Right now, I just can’t believe that he is gone.

Screenshot of Pastor Shirley Caesar's Fb Post

​If there is anyone that I know was saved, it was Michael Mathis.  He was such a wonderful person, one who never had a cross word with anyone. He was the epitome of what God would have us to be.  I called him “My Mike.”

​Facebook friends, please pray for me.  I not only lost a son, but I lost a wonderful friend. My heart bleeds for “My Mike,” who is no longer with us.

​Collectively, he played for my group, The Caesar Singers, and for my church, Mt Calvary Word of Faith, for 43 years.

​​With broken hearts we concede to the sovereignty of God, realizing that “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD!!”

– Pastor Shirley Caesar

Michael made numerous television appearances, including one in the 2003 motion picture The Fighting Temptations.

In 2016, he produced a remake of Caesar’s classic “Satan, We’re Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down,” to be used as a theme song for the Greenleaf series on OWN.

On a personal note, Mike was undoubtedly one of my musical influences. I appreciate having the opportunity to tell him on more than one occasion. I was blessed by his kindness and encouragement through our chats over the years and I am grateful our paths connected.

Michael Mathis with GMF's Libra Boyd
Michael Mathis with Libra Boyd

Condolences are extended to Mike’s family, Pastor Shirley Caesar and the Caesar Singers, Mt. Calvary Word of Faith, and all who are grieving at this difficult time.

Michael was 68.

Homegoing service information

A Celebration of Life musical tribute is set for Wednesday, February 22, at 7 pm. The homegoing service takes place Thursday, February 23, at noon, with visitation beginning two hours prior. All services will be at Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Church, 3100 Sanderford Road, Raleigh, NC.

Hez House Entertainment on the passing of Kevin Lemons


Kevin Lemons official transition announcement

The gospel music community is still reeling from the passing Kevin Lemons. The notable choir director, songwriter, and recording artist’s family announced his passing Saturday morning, January 7, 2023.

Memorial service details are forthcoming.

Hez House Entertainment released an official statement, which includes the sentiments below.

Bishop Hezekiah Walker is heartbroken, saying, “Kevin Lemons was one of the kindest, most humble artists that I know, even though his gift and talents were enormous. His love for God seasoned everything that he did, and his palpable love for people was an extension of that. Kevin Lemons was just a beautiful human being and he will be sorely missed.”

Lemons’ Hez House Entertainment labelmates are also devastated by his sudden passing.

Vincent Bohanan says, “I am in total disbelief concerning the untimely transition of my labelmate Kevin Lemons. Kevin has been a light in the gospel community for many years. His stance, leadership and command over the choir was like none other. There are many things in life we may not understand, but we trust the sovereignty of God. My prayers are with the family and Higher Calling. The gospel choir community will forever remember the life and legacy of Kevin Lemons.”

Mark Hubbard says, “My heart is broken! You were more than just my labelmate. You considered me to be your uncle, and one of the mentors that you grew up listening to in the industry. I (we) will miss you in the physical, but your impact, legacy, and spirit will live on forever in our hearts. My prayers are with Lady T, the family, and Higher Calling. Rest Well, Nephew.”

Patrick Riddick says, “My heart is heavy and full of sadness. From the moment the phone call came in, until now, I have been speechless. Maestro Kevin was our Thomas Whitfield and made up a third of OUR generation’s Brat Pack. Our friendship was so genuine, we would challenge one another musically and share our unfiltered thoughts/critiques of each other in a way that only we could. The brotherhood went beyond music; we held each other accountable and integral. I am going to miss my brother. I am praying for Lady T, Higher Calling and every friend, artist, and colleague who will feel the impact of this loss.”

Kevin Lemons was the founder and director of the extraordinary chorale Higher Calling, which will have been together 27 years this year. Their most recent recording, Third Round, garnered Dove and Stellar Gospel Music Award nominations as well as robust acclaim at radio and on social media. Their breakout single, “For Your Good,” accumulated over 100,000 streams and reached #3 on the Billboard Gospel Digital Sales Chart. Additionally, Lemons served as the vocal director for the celebrated Netflix film, Come Sunday.

“Lemons’ passing is a huge loss for the gospel music industry,” says Bishop Hezekiah Walker. “We are keeping Kevin’s wife of 15 years, Tiunna Lemons, in our heartfelt prayers, along with his family, extended family, members of Higher Calling and all those who knew and loved Kevin Lemons.”

About Kevin Lemons

Kevin Lemons & Higher Calling was founded when Kevin and a group of young singers came together for a special music event created by Kevin’s father, Wilbert Lemons. Kevin’s father was the director of the historic Atlanta Masonic Choir, which was founded by Kevin’s grandmother Annie Ruth Lemons. The group enjoyed singing together so much that they decided to stay together. Kevin Lemons & Higher Calling became a 100-member ensemble with 50 Atlanta-based singers and 50 additional singers from California, Virginia, the DMV area, New York, New Orleans, Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Alabama.

Kevin Lemons & Higher Calling have taken their mesmerizing vocals and energetic performances to stages around the world. They have recorded three albums. Their first album, Destined for Greatness, was released to critical acclaim. Its title track caught the attention of choir maestro Ricky Dillard, who later recorded it with his ensemble New Generation. Their second album, The Declaration, peaked at #10 on Billboard’s Gospel Albums Chart. Their third album, Third Round, was released in 2021 and featured the breakout single “For Your Good.” Kevin Lemons & Higher Calling is a staple in Gospel music, and have performed with Gospel greats including Kirk Franklin, Bebe Winans, Donald Lawrence and Hezekiah Walker. Lemons was vocal director for the celebrated film Come Sunday, and has been the choir director for “How Sweet the Sound” and BET’s Sunday Best.

R.I.P. Romance Watson, formerly of The Roberta Martin Singers

Romance Watson
Romance Watson died December 6, 2022. He is pictured here singing at the funeral of Delois Barrett Campbell in 2011. | Photo by David L. Spearman

Romance Watson, formerly of the Roberta Martin Singers, passed December 6, 2022. He was 92. GMF learned of the passing from Bob Marovich, who shared the news in a social media post.

I had the privilege to meet Mr. Watson in 2011 at the homegoing celebration of Delois Barrett Campbell, also formerly of the Roberta Martin Singers. He delivered a moving performance of “He Looked Beyond My Faults” that ended with a thunderous standing ovation.

In 2012, Watson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers, which shares this biography on its site:

Gospel singer Romance Watson was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 4, 1930 to Laura and Amos Watson. He is the youngest of three siblings. Watson graduated Fuller Elementary and Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago in 1943 and 1950, respectively. In 1949, Watson became a member of the gospel music group the Roberta Martin Singers (RMS), led by its venerable namesake, pianist Roberta Martin. He would go on to perform with the co-ed singing group both nationally and abroad, recording gospel standards such as “Old Ship of Zion” (1949), “Yield Not To Temptation” (1947), “He Knows How Much You Can Bear” (1949), “Only a Look” (1949) and the composition, “The Lord Will Make a Way” (1951) for both the Religious and Apollo Records labels. The Roberta Martin Singers would go on to become one of the pre-eminent Gospel groups of the 1940s and 1950s, known for forsaking traditional gospel harmony for compositions that showcased members’ distinct, individual voices. Additionally, the group performed with giants such as James Cleveland and Mahalia Jackson, among many others.

In 1954, Watson relocated from Chicago to Philadelphia and married Phyllis Hoggard a year later. He continued recording with the Roberta Martin Singers, which was under a recording contract with Savoy Records by 1957. He would appear on the group’s first major hit, 1958’s “God Specializes,” which featured member Gloria Griffin on lead. Watson left the group and recorded soul music for Coral Records, a subsidiary of the hugely popular British record label Decca Records. In 1959, Watson appeared as a guest on the legendary music program American Bandstand. He would leave music altogether in 1961, accepting a job as a bus operator for the Philadelphia Transportation Company, later subsumed by the Southeastern Transportation Authority (SEPTA).

In the 1990’s, Watson reunited with members of the Roberta Martin Singers, participating in tributes to Martin, who passed away in 1969. In 1991, Watson performed with RMS singers in a tribute concert honoring their founder, which was sponsored by the Smithsonian. Watson also performed with revered Gospel musicians such as renowned singer-songwriter Bill Gaither.

Philadelphia Cremation Society has announced that services and interment are private. The Watson family is in our prayers during this emotional time.

Singer/Evangelist Sheila Wilson, mother of Bryan Andrew Wilson, has died

Media Release – Sheila Wilson, a worship leader who had recorded with her gospel star son Bryan Andrew Wilson, passed away November 9, 2022, at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, GA. She was battling stage 4 cancer when she suffered a cardiac arrest. She was 65 years old.

Sheila Wilson was born May 25, 1957, in Danville, IL. Her father Tommy Davis was a quartet singer who grew up with B.B. King in the Mississippi delta. Her mother, Clair Bell Davis, was also a singer, so their household was full of music and church. Although she aspired to become a schoolteacher, music was Wilson’s early calling. In her teens, she began directing church choirs, and in the 1980s she became a singer with the R&B band, W.Q.B.C. They toured throughout the decade and released one LP, Wanna Quit But Can’t, for Thunderbay Records in 1985. It featured the radio single, “Love Me Anyway,” which reached the Top Ten on various R&B radio playlists throughout the south.  

When Wilson’s 10 year-old son Bryan Wilson secured a record deal with Malaco Records in the 1990s and scored radio hits such as “His Eye is on the Sparrow” (with the Mississippi Children’s Choir), she initially managed his career before she returned to work in the insurance and education fields.

In 2005, Wilson became an ordained minister and continued to coach choirs in both Danville, IL, and Toledo, OH. In that period, she co-wrote a ballad entitled, “Secret Place,” with her son, Bryan. They recorded it as a duet for his 2007 album, A Second Coming. The song became popular on gospel radio stations, particularly in the south. It was later reissued on bestselling compilations such as Shanachie Records’ A Praise and Worship Celebration in 2007 and Time Life Music’s Encouraged: Today’s Greatest Gospel Anthems in 2011. In 2017, Wilson stepped into the spotlight with the song “Just Fine” on her son’s Bryan’s Songs recording label.

Wilson graduated from Danville High School in 1974. Years later, she returned to school in the 2010s. She earned an associate’s degree in early childhood education from Davis College and a B.S. in social work from Spring Arbor University. She moved to Atlanta circa 2018 and had recently been working in the music department and overall ministry at Freedom of Atlanta church.

Wilson, who was divorced, is survived by her three sons: Aaron Wilson, Bryan Wilson, and Chris Wilson, who is known as Official Apxllo on the urban music scene. She is also survived by daughters-in-love Tiffany Morriar Wilson and Amy Vogel, several grandchildren, and extended family. Contributions may be sent to $freedombaw and resolutions to [email protected].

Keith ‘Wonderboy’ Johnson dies suddenly at 50

Keith "Wonderboy" Johnson is dead at 50

September 30, 2022 – One of the current kings of gospel quartet music, Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson, has died suddenly at the age of 50. Johnson was found dead in his Atlanta, GA home this morning. An autopsy is scheduled. Johnson was known for big gospel radio hits such as “Let Go and Let God Have His Way,” “Be Right,” and “Hide Behind the Mountain.”

“I’m in total disbelief,” says Black Smoke Music Worldwide founder Kerry Douglas, who first discovered Johnson when he was performing at the American Gospel Quartet Convention in Birmingham, AL in the late 1990s. “I saw Keith perform there and I was just taken by how he moved the audience,” Douglas recalls. “He was an electrifying performer. He was the second act I ever signed, and he was my first signing to become a major artist. We used to sell CDs and The Gospel Truth magazines out of the trunks of our cars. We sold over 10,000 copies back in the day. Keith was like a brother. I was there when his first child was born. We fussed and fought with each other since we met, but that relationship built this company. A lot of the big artists today stand on Keith’s shoulders because of those sacrifices we both made in those early days. Keith began his career with Black Smoke and ended with Black Smoke.”

Johnson was born Keith Lamar Johnson on May 17, 1972, in Brooklyn, NY.  When he was five years old, Johnson’s family started calling him “Wonderboy” for his wonderous musical talents. As a teenager, he enjoyed going to Harlem’s Apollo Theater to see great gospel acts such as John P. Kee and the Rev. James Cleveland. During his teens, he sang with the Boys Choir of Harlem and with his father’s quartet group,  The Spiritual Voices.

Johnson’s first Black Smoke Music Worldwide hit was 1998’s “Hide Behind the Mountain,” a rootsy a cappella track with a steady drumbeat. Then came other hits such as the massive “Be Right,” “Send A Revival,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which showcased the singer’s gravelly tenor. In 2004, he moved on to RCA-owned Verity Records  where he released two albums and scored his biggest hit of all, “Let Go and Let God.” Over the years, Johnson’s bouncy rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” has become an annual favorite on gospel radio stations.

After one-off albums with Malaco Records and Motown Gospel, Johnson scored a production deal with SRT Entertainment which released his album, Keep Pushin’, through a distribution deal with Shanachie Records. “I am saddened to hear of the passing of Keith ‘Wonderboy’ Johnson,” says Shanachie General Manager, Randall Grass. “I first heard his song ‘Let Go and Let God’ around 20 years ago and was immediately impressed; here was an artist injecting the quartet tradition into a contemporary style and it was great. A few years ago, we had the opportunity to release a new album by him which was an equally satisfying melding of traditional and contemporary gospel. His contribution has been great, and he will be missed.”

Homegoing Arrangements flyer for Keith "Wonderboy" Johnson

This past spring, Johnson returned to Black Smoke Worldwide where he released the album, Restructure, Renew & Reunion, which featured the radio single, “It Was You.” Johnson has also acted in touring musicals such as “PMS” and “What A Man Wants, What A Woman Needs.” “He had a bubbly personality,” says Glinda Perkins, Program Director for WXVI in Montgomery, AL. “He was very personable and very serious about music. He was his own best pitchman and even though he had people who worked for him, he was always the best promoter for his music.”

A wake and musical tribute will take place Friday, October 14, 2022, at 6 PM ET, with a homegoing service (funeral) taking place on Friday, October 15, 2022, at 9 AM ET. Both events take place at The Concord Baptist Church of Christ, 833 Gardner C. Taylor Blvd. (Formerly Marcy Avenue) in Brooklyn, NY 11216. Attendees should enter through the red doors on Madison Street. Interment will take place immediately after the Saturday service at The Evergreens Cemetery at 1629 Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn, NY 11207. The Evergreens is the resting place of entertainment giants such as tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Jazz musician Lester Young. The service will stream live via YouTube: @ConcordBrooklyn

Johnson is survived by his parents, Susan and Phillip Johnson; a sister, Attorney Sonya Denise Johnson; and two daughters, Brianna Destiny Johnson and Elyse Victoria Johnson.

– From a media release

James Farmer of the Silver Stars passes on

James Farmer of the Silver Stars of Blanch passed on Sept. 15, 2022.

Funeral services were recently held for James “Mutt” Farmer, a longtime member of the Silver Stars of Blanch, NC. Farmer passed on September 15, 2022, after a period of declining health. 

Founded by Isaac Long (d. 1999), The Silver Stars released numerous projects that featured Farmer as primary lead singer. Times Like These, So Glad I’m Here, Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray, Movin’ To the Millennium, and Bye and Bye are only a few. 

On a personal note, Brother James was a dear friend to our family for well over 50 years. He shared in our joyous celebrations, which included giving concerts at our family reunions, and in our times of grief, during which he rendered solos at the homegoing services of beloved family. His physical presence is already greatly missed. Surely, as he sang, we will look for him “Somewhere in Glory.”

Pastor Nancy Wilson passes away

Pastor Nancy Carree Wilson

Pastor and singer Nancy Wilson has died, her family announced today. Pastor Wilson was 73 years old.

“It is with deep and profound sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved wife and mother, Pastor Nancy Wilson,” her husband and children announced on social media. “We are thankful to God for the impact she has made on all of our lives through her ministry of singing, preaching and intercession. We are grateful for your prayers, love and encouragement.”

Pastor Wilson, a Greensboro native, was a renowned presence in North Carolina and beyond. Her musical résumé includes recordings with Bishop Larry Trotter & Sweet Holy Spirit, Pastor Debra Morton & the Women of Excellence Choir, Men of Standard (of which her son Isaac Carree is a founding member), and others. In 2004, she released her own project, recorded live at Chicago’s Sweet Holy Spirit Church, entitled, Nancy Wilson – Designed for Worship. Additionally, Pastor Wilson was a host of the long-running weekly television program, “Gospel Expo,” which aired locally on ABC and FOX8 WGHP. In 1994, the songstress and media personality became pastor of Greensboro’s New Beginnings Community Outreach Church.

GMF extends condolences to and prayers for husband Pastor J. Teddy Wilson, children Angela, Kimberly and Isaac, and the entire family.

Pastor Nancy Wilson official death announcement