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

R.I.P. David ‘Ready Writa’ Felder of Half Mile Home

David "Ready Writa" Felder of the popular gospel group Half Mile Home unexpectedly passed away on July 3rd at the age of 42.

David “Ready Writa” Felder of the popular gospel group Half Mile Home unexpectedly passed away on July 3rd at the age of 42. David was a loyal member of the Billboard chart-topping group. He was also a dedicated father of four and known throughout the industry for his talents as a writer, producer, and singer.

With their 2022 return, Half Mile Home’s latest single “Closet” has been trending in the Top 40s for several weeks on the Billboard chart. The message of “Closet” will resonate personally with the remaining group members, Todd Burton and Darryl Brownlee. The song references the prayer closet, where people of faith go into a secret place to pray and cast all their cares over situations that are bigger than them. Once they emerge from the closet they watch their faith work on the issue that was prayed about. The group members will need their closet in the coming days to stay strong and continue their work without David.

Half Mile Home and the family of David Felder request prayers as they go through this difficult time. Services will be announced in the forthcoming days. GMF extends its deepest condolences.

– From a media release

Funeral services for celebrity attorney & record label co-founder Benjamin Whitfield announced

Benjamin Whitfield, Jr.

(Detroit, MI) Benjamin Whitfield, Jr., a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and co-owner of Detroit-based Crystal Rose Records, passed away on May 18th at his home in Detroit. Over the course of his fifty-plus year career, Whitfield successfully balanced his call to service in government and jurisprudence while also steering the ship of one of the most successful independent gospel music recording labels of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Benjamin Whitfield, Jr. was born on March 6, 1946, in Detroit, Michigan – the eldest of five children. An enterprising youth, he landed his first job at the age of twelve when he became a hat blocker at Meeks Dry Cleaners where he worked until the age of sixteen. The owner, John O. Meeks, a successful African American businessman, was an inspiration to him. “Mr. Meeks told Ben that if he kept his grades up, that he’d pay his tuition to college, and he kept his word. He paid the tuition for Ben to attend Wayne State University,” his sister Mae Collins explains.

After graduating from Eastern High School, Whitfield attended Wayne State University but finished his bachelor’s degree at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. Later, he earned his Juris Doctorate from Texas Southern University Law School and was admitted to the Michigan Bar in 1973. From 1974 to 1979, he served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan where he served under State Attorney General, Frank J. Kelley. In 1981, he was admitted to and qualified as an attorney and counselor of the United States Court of Claims. In private practice, he formed Benjamin Whitfield, Jr. & Associates where he specialized in probate, divorce, civil and criminal cases. “If you ever witnessed Ben in the courtroom, it was a sight to behold,” laughs his business partner, Brian Spears. “Ben was so stubborn that he was going to press whatever the issue was until his client won. He was relentless and refused to give up.”

When Whitfield’s Central State University dormmate, Barry Hankerson, had become a power-broker music manager for the likes of Gladys Knight, R. Kelly, and Aaliyah, he often called on Whitfield to handle various legal matters. For years, he represented the legendary gospel group, The Clark Sisters, and managed the enterprises of their mother, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, who was the longest-serving International Minister of Music for the Church of God in Christ (COGIC).

In 1993, Whitfield had the idea to launch a record label. He formed Detroit-based Crystal Rose Records with his nephew Michael J. Powell (who produced Anita Baker’s breakthrough album, Rapture), Brian Spears (a veteran music industry executive), and singer/producer, Donald Lawrence. “He was a dad, a big brother, a mentor, a biz partner, a protector,” the GRAMMY® Award-winning and gold-selling Lawrence, says of Whitfield whom he first met in the late 1980s. “He did my very first contract with Irving Azoff and Cassandra Mills at Giant Records. He partnered with me on A Songwriter’s Point of View – The Tri-City Singers’ first album, which was licensed to GospoCentric Records. He also partnered on the stage play I wrote, `A Woman Like That,’ which starred Peabo Bryson. He taught me everything about the record biz…”

Aside from Donald Lawrence & The Tri-City Singers, Crystal Rose boasted a roster that also featured Ricky Dillard & New G, Earnest Pugh, Rodney Posey, Brenda Waters, Michael Mindingall, and The Whitfield Company, among others. In 2002, Billboard Magazine cited Crystal Rose as one of the Top Ten independent gospel labels in the business. “Benny kept his professional life separate from his family life,” Mae recalls. “It wasn’t until this week that I realized how prominent my brother was because he never talked about his career. He didn’t brag on himself. I’m so proud of him and I hate that I can’t tell him how proud I am. He was quiet about his accomplishments. He was focused on his work and there’s nothing he would not do for you.”

Whitfield, who was divorced, is survived by his sister Mae Collins, and a host of nieces, nephews, and extended family. Aside from his parents, he was preceded in death by his siblings Pauline Alfred, Bernard Whitfield, and Melvin Whitfield; and three stepsisters Reola Powell, Jesse B. Whitfield, and Emmylou Morris.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Viewing – 4-7 PM
Cantrell Funeral Home
22121 Kelly Road, Eastpointe, MI

Thursday, June 2, 2022
Viewing – 10 AM
Funeral Service – 11 AM
Little Rock Baptist Church
9000 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, MI

LaShun Pace, beloved gospel singer, makes transition

LaShun Pace

LaShun Pace, beloved gospel songstress and trailblazer of the group, The Anointed Pace Sisters, died today (March 21). She was 60. Her sister Lydia Pace told 11Alive TV journalist Shiba Russell she passed from organ failure and had been on kidney dialysis for five years. News of LaShun’s passing circulated on social media several hours ahead of the official announcement posted by her daughter, Aarion Mychkiel Rhodes.  

An excerpt from her artist page at Malaco Records reads:

Born September 7, 1961, to Murphy and Bettie Ann Pace in Atlanta, Georgia, and brought up in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), Tarrian LaShun (Shun) Pace began singing in church as well as with her eight sisters in the Stellar- and Grammy-nominated vocal group the Anointed Pace Sisters. The sister group, formed by Bettie Ann, won Best Gospel Group at a COGIC convention and toured nationally with their dynamic singing uncle Evangelist Gene Martin as part of Evangelist A.A. Allen’s Action Revival Team.

At some point, LaShun, who can growl with ferocity as easily as she can nimbly run up and down the musical stave in unbridled improvisation, ventured off as a gospel soloist. Her 1990 vocal performance on “The House of the Lord,” recorded for Dr. Jonathan Greer and the Cathedral of Faith Choir’s Savoy album He’s Worthy, inspired the label to sign her as a solo artist. Her debut solo album, He Lives, featuring the old school favorite “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” hit stores in 1991. Subsequently, Savoy signed the Anointed Pace Sisters and released U-Know in 1992. U-Know remained on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart for more than a year, rising to No. 2.

LaShun continued pursuing a solo career while singing with her sisters. Her solo albums for Savoy were Shekinah Glory (1993), A Wealthy Place (1996), Just Because God Said It (1998) and God Is Faithful (2001). In addition, she made formidable guest vocalist appearances on other artists’ records, such as on the remarkable “He’s a Shelter” for Reverend James Moore and the Mississippi Mass Choir’s 1995 Malaco project, Live at Jackson State University, and “Create in Me” for the AARC Mass Choir.

The 1990s also ushered in opportunities in film and on stage for LaShun, with appearances in the movie, Leap of Faith (starring Steve Martin) and the David E. Talbert musical, A Fool and His Money. Tyler Perry, an up-and-coming playwright at the time, also enlisted her for his stage play, I Know I’ve Been Changed.

LaShun continued to deliver a string of recordings over the years including It’s My Time (2005), Complete (2007), Reborn (2011), and the 2019 single “Joy.” GMF reviewed “Something to Live For” from the Reborn project in 2011. Most recently, she became a viral sensation when a portion of her 90s song “Act Like You Know” became a TikTok trend, taking over TikTok.

The powerhouse soprano was the recipient of several honors and accolades, including the Soul Train Lady of Soul Award, the BMI Trailblazer Award, multiple Stellar Awards, induction in the Christian Music Hall of Fame.

LaShun’s transition follows the passing of Mother Bettie Ann Pace in July 2020 and LaShun’s oldest sister Duranice in January 2021. 

GMF lifts prayers for Aarion and the entire Pace family during this extraordinarily difficult and emotional time.

The celebration of life service takes place at Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral in Austell, GA, on Saturday, April 2, at 11 AM.

Celebration of Life service flyer

R.I.H. Bernard Sterling of the Shirley Caesar Singers

By Libra Boyd

Celebration of Life Announcement Flyer

GMF joins the gospel community in mourning the passing of Bernard Sterling, longtime vocalist of more than 50 years with Pastor Shirley Caesar. Sterling, 74, passed February 25, 2022.

Sterling’s tenor soared across multiple decades of releases with Shirley Caesar as a member of the Caesar Singers. He aptly handled the lead chores on a number of tunes including “Captain of My Soul,” “Come and Go with Me,” and “Give Me A Clean Heart.” In addition to this tenure, he released projects on his own, Lord Remember Me and Lifted, in the 1980s and 90s, respectively. Despite health challenges in recent years, he continued to travel with Pastor Caesar and the Shirley Caesar Group whenever his health permitted.

A Celebration of Life service has been announced for Saturday, March 5, at 2 PM, at Victory at Calvary Church in Durham, NC. Visitation begins at 1 PM.

Bernard Sterling was a class act and he will be deeply missed. We extend condolences and prayers for his wife Dottie, his children, the entire Sterling family, and the Shirley Caesar Group.

Homegoing services set for Derrick Lee

Derrick Lee Arrangements

Homegoing services are taking place this weekend for songwriter and musician Derrick Lee. Lee, widely recognized as the music director for BET’s Bobby Jones Gospel, passed February 19, 2022, after battling a period of health challenges.

The obituary:

Derrick Lee was born October 12, 1958 to Dr. Rev. Wesley Lee, Sr., and Adell Lee. If music is a birthright, Derrick was in the right place! He began playing piano and organ in the early years of his life following in the footsteps of his sister Earlene, and later became the Minister of Music at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey where his father was the founder and pastor. He founded the church’s premier choir, the W. L. Lee Choral Ensemble. Derrick continued to excel in music and in 1973 he attended the Arts High School, the nation’s first high school for the arts; he became the music director for the high school choir. He also received a proclamation from the city for being one of Newark’s “Most Outstanding Musicians.”

In 1976, Derrick attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. It was at this prominent HBCU where Derrick’s musical life began to transform. As a musical prodigy, Derrick would be recognized as one of the most outstanding musicians on the Fisk campus. He became the music director of the Black Mass Choir, leading them to win many choral competitions throughout the South. He joined the Fisk Jubilee Singers, where he traveled internationally singing Negro Spirituals, and concertized with many renowned personalities such as Lucille Ball, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Barbara Mandrell, among others. Derrick always sought out opportunities that would enhance his musical skills, and later in 1977, accepted an invitation for an exchange program at Fisk University to attend the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio for a year. His classical skills were an extraordinary demonstration of his musicianship as he played concertos, preludes, and other pieces by European composers like Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Liszt, and Mozart.

As Derrick’s music career expanded beyond the college doors, he started producing
music for many local artists, including recording his first project in Nashville with the 21st Century Singers entitled, “Triumphant.” He joined Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church, and for over 30 years served as the music director for the Gospel Choir. As his skillful reputation grew throughout the city, Derrick developed relationships with producers and arrangers who hired him to play on recording sessions, such as Shannon Williams at Nashboro Records, Word Music, Onyx Records, Muscle Shoals Records, Savoy Records, and others. Derrick spent many years working with Sanchez Harley who produced recordings for many popular artists for over 20 years. These experiences led him to his introduction to Dr. Bobby Jones, a relationship that would evolve into a thriving career as a music director, producer, and songwriter. For over 35 years, Derrick would compose original music for the show, create electrifying arrangements of hymns and awe-inspiring accompaniments for the many Gospel artists that would grace the stages of BET’s
Bobby Jones Gospel.

The prominence of Derrick’s arrangements led him to produce for such gospel greats as Albertina Walker, Shirley Caesar, Dorothy Norwood, Everett Drake, the Frierson Brothers, Rev. Angie Spivey, Beverly Crawford, Lawrence Thomison, Regina Belle, the Gospel Music Workshop of America, and so many more. His most notable arrangements would be heard with Dr. Bobby Jones and the New Life Singers, the Nashville Super Choir on recordings including Caught Up (1980), Soul Set Free (1982), Come Together (1983), Another Time (1985), and I’ll Never Forget (1990), Bring It To Jesus (1993), Just Churchin’ (1998). Derrick’s musical arrangements would take the nation by storm in the Gospel industry as Bobby Jones Gospel would always open with one of Derrick’s powerful arrangements or an original composition.

To know Derrick was to love him dearly. Many of his friends were often greeted with “names of endearment” other than their own! His quick wit often left you speechless during conversations, as he may wrap up the conversation with remarks of friendly sarcasm or a delightful rant of clever humor. There was no mistake if Derrick felt that you were not living up to his expectations! If he didn’t verbally express his disgust, his eyes spoke volumes and made many starkly aware that they had to make some major adjustments – quickly! Derrick did not accept mediocrity or minutiae, and everyone who had an opportunity to work with him knew that things just couldn’t be good, it had to be “Grand”!

He had a fond and special love for his family and friends from Newark, New Jersey, Nashville, Tennessee, and from all around the world. His life was large and his love was wide. He leaves to mourn his passing, his only living sister, Betty McHenry. Derrick’s parents and siblings, Dr. Rev. Wesley Lee, Sr. and Adell Lee; his brothers, Wesley Lee, Jr., General Lee, William (Twinkle) Lee, and sisters Beaula Lee McKinnon and Earlene Lee all preceded him in death. He will be fondly remembered by his nieces, Karen McKinnon, Jamie Horton, Almetra Lee, Quamara Lee; nephews Reginald Lee, Michael Lee, Vincent Lee, Paul Lee, Jerome Cherry, Michael Cherry, Ronnie Cherry, and James McKinnon; a host of cousins, great nieces, great nephews and devoted friends, Everett Drake, Linda Whitaker, and Eva Kirk. (Source: Lewis and Wright Funeral Directors site)

A musical tribute is set for Friday, March 4, at 7 PM. The Celebration of Life service is set for Saturday, March 5, at 11 AM. Both services will take place at Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in Hermitage, TN.

GMF extends condolences and prayers to family, friends, and colleague during this emotional time.

Michael Towns, Kingdom Records and Urban Ideas exec, has died

Mike Towns has died

Michael Towns, a music industry executive with Kingdom Records and Urban Ideas, has passed away of bronchial complications at the age of 55.

“I met Mike through the Inroads program. I went on to work for First National Bank of Chicago and Mike became my intern in the late 1980s,” says Kingdom Records President, Joan Sullivan. “We’ve been dear friends ever since. In 2004, he became my right hand in managing Kingdom Records and in 2012, he became my partner in Urban Ideas. This is a totally unexpected loss and Mike will be very missed by our entire team who loved him as family.”

Sullivan recruited Towns as Director of Finance, Marketing and Strategy for Kingdom Records in 2004. The Chicago-based label is the home for the platinum-selling Shekinah Glory Ministry which is known for songs such as “Yes” and “Praise is What I Do.” Towns was an integral part of Kingdom’s operation, managing the budgets and marketing plans for projects that eventually grossed over $12 million in retail sales. In addition to Kingdom’s gospel catalogue, Towns also worked with its affiliated secular imprints Urban Creed, Chicago Creed, and Indie Chart Music. In 2012, Towns and Sullivan founded Urban Ideas, a boutique consulting practice specializing in entertainment and entrepreneurship coaching.

A Chicago native, Towns attended Harvard Business School and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He graduated from DePaul University with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Finance and Financial Management Services in 1988.  He went on to earn a Master of Business Administration degree in Finance and Strategy from The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in 1992.  Early in his career, Towns held various financial positions with First National Bank of Chicago, National Equity Fund, Bee Manufacturing, and Salomon Smith Barney. Over the years, he’s been an instructor at Robert Morris College, Roosevelt University, and since 2015, an adjunct professor, at Columbia College in Chicago.

“The hardest thing to do is to find someone who understands a problem like it is their very own,” Towns once said. “Once you start believing in the power people have to change the world, everything becomes clear. My calling is a unique ability to see the beauty and excellence in people and processes. I think like both an artist and a researcher. I approach problems with both a rigorous analytical framework and a coloring book. I have honed my thinking and my practice combining what I learned in banking and in the entertainment business. Simply put, everyone has a story to tell. The question is what way best builds and engages an audience. Innovative thinker, outstanding writer, and presenter. Infectiously curious.”

Towns is survived by his wife, Joy; his mother, Pearlie Mae King; and a sister, Janie “Tiny” King.

Press Release

Norris Lipsey aka DK. DRU passes on

The SRT ENTERTAINMENT family regrets to announce the passing of Dr. Norris Andrus Lipsey, professionally known as Stellar Award nominee gospel artist DK. DRU.
Every once in a while music creators converge in a studio and what is crafted is pure magic. Pure magic is the only way to describe the vocal collaboration featuring late great Stellar and Grammy-nominated Bishop Rance Allen, quartet legend Paul Porter of The Christianaires, veteran producer, songwriter, artist, Chris Byrd & True Victory, and DK. DRU on his debut single, “Man From Galilee.” The collaboration earned him his first appearance on the Top 30 Billboard Gospel National Airplay chart as well as his first Stellar Award nomination in the Traditional Duo/Chorus Group of the Year category.
The viewing was held on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, at the New Horizon Church, 511 Courtland St., Maxton, NC 28364.
The funeral arrangements are as follows:
Saturday, February 5, 2022
New Zion MB Church
140 Pinecrest St.
Plantersville, MS 38862
1 pm
Please send love gifts to:
P.O. Box 744
Parkton, NC 28371
Please $Cash App any donations to $NorrisLipseyblessme
About DK. DRU
DK. DRU is the stage name for contemporary gospel artist Dr. Norris Andrus Lipsey. Born in Camden, MS, and raised in and around Tupelo MS, It was as a member of New Zion MB Church at a young age where he began to discover his singing and songwriting abilities. Norris joined the military, and while stationed in Germany truly began to develop his love for music, learning to play the drums and bass guitar. He also formed different singing groups and performed on many of the talent shows that were featured to the troops in Germany. After the military was completed, Norris discovered that his children also had a talent for singing and music and formed the group Norris Lipsey and the Faith Garden Singers. The group was together for over 13 years performing at churches, fairs, festivals, gospel showcases, and conferences all over the east coast – even performing at BET Soundstage and Atlanta Live. In pursuit of higher education, Norris obtained his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees. Throughout the years, Norris had labored in many areas such as merchandising, import/exports, insurance, sales, real-estate investing, multi-level marketing, music, preaching, substance abuse counseling, and mental health. Norris sought the Lord through prayer and fasting for direction. After years of waiting on God, God impressed upon Norris’ spirit to go back to the music. 

– From a press release

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