Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers Recordings 1949-1958

Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers
Recordings 1949-1958
Gospel Friend (2013) 

By Libra Boyd, Founder & Editor
Gospel Music Fever


Fans of Golden Era gospel will enjoy the current release on the Gospel Friend imprint, Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers. Strolling, strutting, and sometimes shouting down Memory Lane with Clara Ward and the ladies presents 25 reasons “famous” managed to work its way into the group’s name.


Step back at least 55 years, and you will hear gospel singing at its finest. Prior to the days of heavy studio overdubs, electronic instruments, and pitch correction software, there were skilled voices honed from raw talent. Frances Steadman, Henrietta Waddy, Thelma Jackson, Willa Ward Royster (to whom the CD is dedicated), Marion Williams, and Clara were all top notch lead vocalists. On this particular CD, Marion Williams–the only bona fide gospel artist to date to receive a Kennedy Center Honor–leads several of the numbers, including one of their hits, W.H. Brewster’s “I’m Climbing Higher and Higher” and her self-written “I’ll Be There.”  In contrast to Marion’s robust delivery is Clara’s refined soprano on Robert Anderson’s “Prayer Changes Things,” as well as Willa’s recognizable timbre on “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” and Frances Steadman’s stirring near-baritone on “God’s Amazing Love.”


As I said earlier, forget about the presence of the studio enhancements that give a lot of today’s gospel its marketable sound.  You won’t find them on this CD. What you’ll find are pure and piping unobstructed vocals complemented by piano and organ on the earliest dated tracks, and then drums and “sacred steel” guitar as the 1950s ushers in additional musical accompaniment.

I do not own Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers on vinyl, so I am ecstatic that producer Per Notini of Sweden has made this collection available in a format that gospel music aficionados can enjoy for years to come. If this reissue is ice cream, then the cherry on top is Robert Sacré’s comprehensive liner notes with photos interspersed.


In the United States, Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers is available at www.cityhallrecords.com.

Favorites
“Prayer Changes Things” – “God’s Amazing Love” 

Fever Meter
SMOKIN’ (4 of 5 Stars)

Passings: Gladys Beamon Gregory and Willa Ward Royster

These are the news items that really sadden me to pass along.  


My friend Bob Marovich of The Black Gospel Blog has reported that Gladys Beamon Gregory of the acclaimed Little Lucy Smith Singers and Willa Ward Royster, sister of Clara Ward and member of the famous Ward Singers have entered into eternal rest.  They died yesterday and today, respectively.
Born in 1925, Gregory was a member of the original Lucy Smith Trio, which later became the Little Lucy Smith Singers.  One of the group’s biggest hits was “Somebody Bigger Than You and I.”
Royster, her sister Clara, and other members of the Ward Singers traveled all over the country and overseas, working capacity crowds into frenzies in their heyday.  At various points, she had her own groups also: the Willa Ward Singers, the Willa Moultrie Singers, the Gay Charmers (later performing as the Sophisticates), the Willettes, the Willa Ward Trio, and the Willa Ward Duo.  She was 92.
The Black Gospel Blog will post additional information on Gregory and Royster as it becomes available. 

Chicago Tribune also remembers Gladys Beamon Gregory with an informative news piece.

GMF extends sincere condolences to the families and friends of these two gospel greats and prays the circle of gospel pioneers and legends will be unbroken by and by.
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Above left:  The Little Lucy Smith Singers, whose members were Little Lucy Smith, Gladys Beamon Gregory, Catherine Campbell, and Sarah McKissick.

Above right: Willa Ward Royster during a 2009 interview with Casey Snyder, Mari Saito and Julio Nunez.

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.