Aretha Franklin to be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame

GMF is excited to learn that Aretha Franklin will be added to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame this August in Tennessee.  It is another well deserved honor for the “Queen of Soul,” whose roots in gospel music run deep.  CBS News is one of several outlets that shared the announcement a few days ago: Aretha Franklin to Join Gospel Hall of Fame.

You can listen to a few of Aretha’s classic gospel pearls on the YouTube channel of GMF’s partner, Gospel Experience.  The channel has an entire playlist (below) devoted to her.

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Aretha Franklin: Pumping Out Soul and Preaching Up Gospel

Gospel community reacts to the death of international superstar Whitney Houston

By Libra Boyd
Originally posted Feb. 12, 2012 at 12:16AM 
Last Updated Feb. 13, 2012 at 9:08AM
Whitney Houston and Kim Burrell at the 2011
BET Celebration of Gospel, after their unforgettable
performance of “I Look to You.”
Photo from
I was taking in a comedy show Saturday evening when I received word of Whitney Houston’s demise at the age of 48.  Actually, I was listening to an up and coming balladeer pay a fantastic musical tribute to another music icon who left us too soon, Luther Vandross.  There was nothing I was able to say when my friend turned to me stunned and whispered, “Libra, Whitney Houston is dead,” except, “It’s got to be a hoax.  Google it.”  How I prayed to be right!
After the search results confirmed the shocking news, I sat through the show reflecting on Whitney’s music.  She was a pop icon.  She is a pop icon.  And she, like countless other entertainers, started in her church, New Hope Baptist in Newark, NJ.  Gospel influences were all around her.  Her mother Cissy Drinkard Houston, a superb soprano–who once sang backup for Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin–was a member of the well-known gospel recording group, the Drinkard Singers.  Her cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick were members of the Gospelaires, later renamed the Sweet Inspirations.  Aretha is Whitney’s godmother.

Awards and recognitions amassed throughout Whitney’s career are unmatched by any other female artist.  Even The Preacher’s Wife original soundtrack, which features her flawless vocals on a number of gospel and R&B tracks, is reported to be the best-selling gospel album of all time.

Expectedly, the Twitter world has been abuzz with sentiments from the gospel music industry.

Richard Smallwood, whose composition “I Love the Lord” was performed by Whitney on The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack, tweeted, “No words…my heart is so heavy. Love and prayers to Cissy Houston And Bobbi Kris and the rest of the fam. RIP Whitney Houston.”  Later, he added, “[T]his is just SO surreal. Cant wrap my mind around it……[sic]”

“I’m so sorry to hear of the news of Whitney Houston,” posted Kierra Sheard.  “She was one of music’s greatest. I’m praying for the family.”

James Fortune said via tweet, “We have lost an ICON! I am deeply saddened by the news of Whitney Houston’s passing! Praying for her family! RIP.”

From left: Houston, Caesar and Winans

The chart-topping diva shared close relationships with CeCe Winans and Shirley Caesar through the years.  In 1996, the trio’s gospel medley brought down the house at the 38th Grammy Awards show.  Sunday, Winans shared on Twitter, “I LOVED her SO much, but God loved her more. I pray she’s resting in His arms!”

“RIP Whitney Houston…,” tweeted duo Mary Mary.  “[O]ur hearts are so heavy we’ll always Love you…[sic]”

Cemented in the annals of BET’s Celebration of Gospel is Whitney’s surprise duet with Kim Burrell in 2011.  The vocal powerhouses brought the riveted audience to its feet with Whitney’s “I Look to You” from her last album of the same name.

Sunday evening, Burrell told CNN at the Grammys that she last heard from her friend the day before.

“I got to LA for this, and she told me to call her when I got here; we [were] going to go the Clive [Davis] party last night.  So I called her and I missed her and so…she called me and missed me and so she left a message at about 2 o’clock….I called back several times and of course I didn’t get an answer, because my friend (pause) had died.”  Burrell said Whitney was “in great spirits as always.”

Burrell became emotional as she continued to speak of their close friendship of 13 years.  “I love her,” she said through tears, “And she’s my sister–and she’ll always be my sister.  I love her dearly.”  She went on to share that she’d spent time with Whitney’s daughter Bobbi Kristina, who calls her “Auntie Kim,” on Saturday.

Grammy-winning producer Kevin Bond tweeted, “‘I Look To You!’…….What a befitting song for her ending! After Everything and Everyone else is gone I look to you God! [sic]”

Jason Nelson appropriately petitioned on his Twitter page, “Please keep the family of Whitney Houston in your prayers. This loss affects all of the music community.”

GMF indeed extends condolences to Whitney’s family and friends.  Our prayers are with them as they mourn the passing of one whom the world knows as a true music sensation.

Aretha Franklin: Pumping Out Soul and Preaching Up Gospel

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Mostly everyone knows that Aretha Louise Franklin is the Queen of Soul.  If not, at her insistence, they’d better recognize.  I’m pretty confident that everyone at Durham Performing Arts Center is clear about it, but after the second half of last night’s ninety minute show, some may think she’s solidified a spot among gospel’s royals, too.

Aretha Franklin
Photo: The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas

Aretha’s fans see she makes no apologies for her relationship with Jesus Christ, and aficionados know her roots run deep in the church.  So it was, Her Majesty took us on a ride through five decade’s worth of R&B and soul hits before sitting at the piano to play and sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  It was easily the most emotional performance of the night, with her instrumental intro and interlude underscoring the depth of her musicianship.  And while the song itself isn’t gospel, its composer Paul Simon cites Rev. Claude Jeter’s line, “I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in My name,” taken from the Swan Silvertones’ “Mary Don’t You Weep,” as his inspiration.

Maybe that’s why Aretha got to feeling churchy and wound up hurling a sermonette at the audience by the song’s end, testifying that the Lord’ll make a way.  Of course, charismatic church folk know they can’t just “think about Jesus” without wanting to “dance all night.”  By the time her hallelujahs infiltrated the rafters and penetrated the heavens, the orchestra had cued up music for a praise break.

From there, Aretha stepped back to centerstage.  Staying in her gospel vein (which incidentally brought her the biggest selling album of her career, Amazing Grace), she sang the worshipful “One Night with the King” before abruptly shifting gears to her 80’s R&B smash “Freeway of Love.”  Determined to include God on that ride too, Aretha shouted “Good God Almighty” and recited the 23rd Psalm while her singers turned the corner on the vamp and changed lanes–first chanting “freeway” and then “higher,” before accelerating to an exclamatory “Jesus!”

The old school would call it straddling the fence.  Somehow, however, the Queen has managed to maneuver the freeway of sacred and secular without being frowned upon by the same churchers who declare it to be disgraceful when other artists do so.  Personally, I’m okay with the presence of gospel tunes in her concert repertoire.  Considering the massive success of Amazing Grace though, I think she’d be just fine singing an entire gospel number and letting it stand alone.  No fusion needed.  Or let’s see, how can I phrase this lyrically?  Ah yes, Let It Be.

All the same, there is a reason Aretha is the Queen.  A darn good reason.  And whether it’s pumping out soul or preaching up gospel, the living legend totally gets my R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

“The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow” – Aretha Franklin

“The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow”
Aretha Franklin
From the CD, This Christmas (2008)
DMI Records

I love a good hymn.  And a good hymn is made great when sung by a skillful singer who does it justice.  Enter the “Queen of Soul” with a signature composition by the “Father of Gospel,” the late Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey.

I am really not sure why “The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow” is on Aretha’s Christmas album.  It does prove, though, that there’s always room for classic gospel.  Aretha infuses this gem with soul for your soul.  Add some funk to the ageless lyrics and you have yourself a song for all seasons.

Delois Barrett Campbell’s life celebrated with rousing musical, moving homegoing

Aretha Franklin, President Obama among scores who offered tributes

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Delois Barrett Campbell
Delois Barrett Campbell

People from all over the country packed the pews of Trinity United Church of Christ Tuesday and Wednesday evening to celebrate the life of gospel music way-paver, Delois Barrett Campbell, the “Royal Lady of Gospel.”  Many around the world watched online; so many in fact, that Trinity’s website crashed due to the volume of viewers.  Lady Delois, of the internationally renowned Barrett Sisters and formerly of the trailblazing Roberta Martin Singers, passed August 2.  She was 85.

Tuesday night’s musical tribute was a celebration of lively music and hearty laughter as Lady Delois was fondly remembered for her vocal prowess, her elegance, and her endearing presence.  Musical salutes were given by Chicago’s First Church of Deliverance Choir, psalmist Tanya Ray, the Gospel Music According to Chicago (GMAC) Choir, and Quinton Washington, who sang in Jennifer Hudson’s absence.

Brown Sisters of Chicago
The Brown Sisters

In salute to Delois Barrett Campbell and The Barrett Sisters, who are cited as influences on today’s gospel sister groups, the sensational Brown Sisters took to the platform and immediately brought the crowd to its feet with a medley of the Barrett Sisters’ “I’ll Fly Away (Lord, Give Me Wings)” and “I’ve Got A New Home.”  The remaining sisters Rodessa Barrett Porter and Billie Barrett GreenBey stood, swayed, clapped, and grinned as the Browns led the celebratory audience down memory lane.

Other musical performances were given by the amazing Kim Stratton, Cathy Townsend, Rev. Issac Whittmon, Chris Gardner, Reginald Finley, Wooten Choral Ensemble, Penny Jeffries, Milas Armour, Pastor Ray Berryhill and Evangel World Outreach Ministries, Dexter Walker & Zion Movement and Lady Delois’s cousin Ron Barrett.

It was the Rev. Stanley Keeble’s recounting of Jessy Dixon’s “The Wicked Shall Cease from Their Troubling” that caused the church to explode in praise.  Keeble opted not to sing the song, but no sooner than he completed his remarks and laid the mic down, the church became one huge mass choir and broke spontaneously into the song’s chorus.  Pastor DeAndre Patterson, one of the evening’s emcees, brought Keeble back at least twice to sing the verses, and the house erupted in jubilation.  The Campbell daughters as well as Barrett Sisters member Tina Brown were among the many dancing in the spirit.  It was just the kind of rejoicing that Lady Delois would want – and perhaps prayed for – at her homegoing.

Sue Campbell-Ladd, daughter of Delois Barrett Campbell
Sue Campbell-Ladd

The evening was not without laughter as Lady Delois was remembered for her big hair and long eyelashes, her skills in the kitchen (especially her soul food), and her sense of humor.  The evening’s funniest remembrances were shared by her oldest daughter, Dr. Sue Campbell-Ladd, who recalled her mother’s enjoyment of talking on the phone, insistence that her daughters “learn to be on time,” and love of sports, particularly the Chicago Bulls.

“When my father would walk into the living room, he’d say, ‘What’s the score?’  My mother would say, ‘186 to 42.  The Bulls are winning.'”  The audience roared.  Ladd added, “They were always winning–to her.”

Other warm memories were expressed by gospel music historians Nash Shaffer and Professor L. Stanley Davis, radio personalities John Hannah and Effie Rolfe, Bishop Larry Trotter, and the evening’s emcees Pastor Patterson and Art Norman.  A host of notables were also in attendance.  Among those I spotted were Caravans members Inez Andrews and Delores Washington, Lady Lou Della Evans-Reid, Walt Whitman, Rev. Jolinda Wade, Ricky Dillard, Lexi, Pastor Dan Willis, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Calvin Bridges and Bishop Otto Houston, III.

In a rousing finale, the Barrett Sisters–Porter and GreenBey along with Tina Brown, who was hand-picked by Lady Delois as her stand-in vocalist–were escorted to the pulpit, donning the royal color of purple like the rest of their family and friends, to perform their popular number “Jesus Will,” backed by the Trinity United Church of Christ Choir.  The bereaved sisters were embraced by a standing congregation and uplifted by supernatural strength; in response, they delivered a healthy dose of encouragement in their own classy and musically excellent way.

‘Twas the night of a fitting tribute to a royal lady.


Wednesday’s homegoing service of nearly four hours was the continuance of celebration thanking God for the life and legacy of Delois Barrett Campbell.  Prominent clergy, politicians, and gospel singers came to pay homage while the main floor and balcony of the Trinity UCC sanctuary was again filled with family, friends, and admirers.

Anthony Heilbut
Anthony Heilbut

Among the numerous spoken-word tributes was a beautifully delivered recitation of “God Saw You Getting Tired” by Lady Delois’s 13 year-old granddaughter, Nailah Harris, and an audio message from the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin.  George Nierenberg, who directed the critically acclaimed 1982 documentary, Say Amen, Somebody, which skyrocketed the Barrett Sisters to international fame, shared accounts of his personal interaction with Lady Delois and her sisters during the making of the movie.  Anthony Heilbut, author of The Gospel Sound, escorted the congregation to yesteryear, playing Lady Delois’s very first solo recording with the Roberta Martin Singers in 1947, and her last, about 50 years later.  This was one of several highlights, as members of Wednesday’s audience could be heard saying, “Go ‘head ‘Lois,” “You betta sing!” and “That’s alright, Mama” while listening to her voice soar and then settle back into sheer sweetness on the recordings.

Romance Watson
Romance Watson

Other musical highlights include vocalist Kathy Taylor’s passionate delivery of “The Corinthian Song.”  It was rafter-rattling; many of the worshippers could have used a psalmic selah afterwards.  “He Looked Beyond My Faults,” a flawless performance by Lady Delois’s contemporary, Romance Watson of the famed Roberta Martin Singers, was accompanied by a thunderous standing ovation that continued as he exited the sanctuary.  (He apologized for being hoarse.)  I can only imagine that Lady Delois brought the house down in like fashion with her God-given singing virtuosity at the many funerals for which she sang through the years.

Daughters Mary and Sue
Daughters Mary and Sue

Angela Hunt, the Caravans’ Delores Washington, the Carson Sisters, Tina Brown of the Barrett Sisters, and Pastor DeAndre Patterson also comforted the family with musical selections between tributes, readings, and words of comfort from Trinity’s pastor, Rev. Otis Moss, III.  One special reading was a letter of condolence from President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama.

As the evening drew to an end, those “Sweet Sisters of Zion” graced the pulpit to perform the final musical tribute, “God Be With You Til We Meet Again.”  Despite being grief-stricken, when the Barrett Sisters opened their mouths, their countenances lifted and their harmonies rang.  As they approached the final notes of the song they’ve closed concerts with time and time again, Ladies GreenBey, Porter and Brown bowed.  It was a most moving moment for me.  This time, I sensed that they bowed not to receive recognition from their audience of admirers for a job well done. Rather, they bowed in salute to gospel music royalty – for her job well done.

The Barrett Sisters
Members of The Barrett Sisters singing group, Rodessa Barrett Porter (foreground), Billie Barrett Greenbey (right), and Tina Brown (left).

Delois's coffin exits sanctuary
Family and friends prepare for the recessional as Trinity’s choir sings “I’ve Got A New Home”.

Horse drawn carriage carries casket
Lady Delois is escorted to Oak Woods Cemetery, her resurrection site (as described by Apostle Richard Henton), on Thursday, in a horse drawn carriage.

Photos by photographer David Spearman where noted.  GMF thanks him for granting us permission to publish the photos with this story.

Recordings by C.L. Franklin, Blind Willie Johnson to be preserved by Library of Congress

I recently posted that Rev. Al Green’s 1970’s R&B hit, “Let’s Stay Together” was chosen this year to be included in the National Recording Registry for preservation in the Library of Congress (see “Happy birthday, Rev. Al Green!”).

Well, I am thrilled to learn that Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” (1927) and Rev. C.L. Franklin’s sermon, “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest” (1953) are among gospel recordings selected for the National Recording Registry.  These recordings–which meet registry requirements of being at least 10 years old and culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant–will be digitized in formats that are conducive to long-term preservation.
A complete list of the latest additions to the registry can be viewed here: 2010 Registry.
In news related to Blind Willie Johnson, I learned from The Black Gospel Blog that efforts are under way to fund a documentary called The Search for “Blind” Willie Johnson and the Texas Gospel.  According to the Kickstarter campaign site, the film will also examine the musical contributions of Washington Phillips, Arizona Dranes and The Soul Stirrers.  More information about the documentary and fundraising campaign is available at this site: The Search for “Blind” Willie Johnson and the Texas Gospel.
(Photos: top left, Rev. C.L. Franklin; bottom right, Blind Willie Johnson)