'Living Legends Concert' honors Lee Williams & The Spiritual QC's as Williams readies for retirement

Lee Williams and the Spiritual QCs
By Libra Boyd
Melvin Williams and Doc McKenzie & the Hi-Lites were among hundreds who filled Durham’s King’s Park International Church Friday evening to honor Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC’s (pictured left).
The four-hour musical was billed as “The Living Legends Concert: An Intimate Evening with The Legends Honoring Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC’s” and is said to be one of Lee’s final appearances with the QC’s in North Carolina.  The longtime frontman of the Tupelo-based group founded by his uncle in the 1960s plans to retire from traveling and performing this year.  In July, Daily Journal reported that the multi award-winning singer and songwriter is battling Alzheimer’s Disease.  Lee spoke with GMF in 2011 regarding fans’ concerns about his health and rumors of retirement.  At the time, he told GMF founder Libra Boyd, “That’s not up to me” and that he’d continue to travel and perform with the group “as long as [God] lets me.” (Read the related story here.)
Last evening, Williams led the QC’s and an enthusiastic audience through abbreviated renditions of the group’s hits including “I’ve Learned to Lean” and “I Can’t Give Up,” with support from fellow group members Patrick Hollis and Leonard Shumpert.  One of the evening’s most memorable moments, however, occurred at the conclusion of gospel great Melvin Williams’ 37-minute set when Lee, to Melvin’s utter surprise and sheer delight, reappeared on stage for “Cooling Water,” the standout song from Doug and Melvin Williams’ Duets project.  Minutes earlier, Melvin had credited Lee, who was featured on the recording with Melvin, for the song’s massive success.
Other musical guests for the Living Legends Concert were Doc Mckenzie & The Hi-Lites and area groups From the Heart, New Creation, and Chuckey Robinson & C.E.R.J.E.R.Y.  Lee was also celebrated with video tributes from industry colleagues Pastor Luther Barnes, Harvey Watkins, Paul Porter, Keith Wonderboy Johnson, and Pastor Thomas Walker. 

Additionally, he was honored with a proclamation from the City of Durham declaring August 24, 2018 “Lee Williams Day” and was presented a framed honorary gold plaque on behalf of event coordinator Clarence Harding, M4 Enterprise, and North Carolina gospel media.
GMF extends congratulations and deep gratitude to Mr. Lee  Williams for his notable achievements during his time on the gospel highway and for the example he has set in the quartet community.  Our prayers are with him for a blessed retirement and precious quality time with his family and friends.
See more pictures below and check out even more photos from the concert on GMF’s Facebook page.

Clockwise from top left: Lee joins Melvin Williams for “Cooling Water.” (Photo credit: Michael Boykin) / Radio personality Bobby Parker (left) presents Lee a framed honorary gold record on behalf of M4 Enterprise, its owner Clarence Harding (third from left), and NC gospel media personalities (in the background, partially obscured). Rosie Trenia Moore (right) looks on. (Photo credit: LaShelle Crump) /  Doc McKenzie & The Hi-Lites deliver a riveting concert of fan favorites. / Melvin weeps as he embraces Lee following “Cooling Water.”

Editor’s Note:  Lee Williams is no relation to Doug and Melvin Williams.

Shirley Caesar celebrates birthday, pastorate, 50-year solo career with all-star musical

Pastor Shirley Caesar (front), joined by (left to right): Melvin
Williams, LaDehra Alston, Dr. Bobby Jones, Beverly Crawford, Le'Andria Johnson, Ami Rushes, Teddy Campbell, and Tina Campbell. 
Pastor Shirley Caesar (front), joined by (left to right): Melvin
Williams, LaDehra Alston, Dr. Bobby Jones, Beverly Crawford, Le’Andria
Johnson, Ami Rushes, Teddy Campbell, and Tina Campbell. 

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

The tribute lineup read like Who’s Who in gospel music Friday evening, October 14, at Raleigh’s Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Church, where gospel’s queen Shirley Caesar is pastor.  There, a host of artists along with a crowd of over 1,000 gathered to help the pastor-singer celebrate her 78th birthday.  Caesar’s longtime friend and industry colleague, Dr. Bobby Jones, was the emcee.

The four-hour program included musical tributes from the Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Choir, mime minister Arie Pope, Ami Rushes, Melvin Williams, Teddy and Tina Campbell, Wess Morgan, Le’Andria Johnson, and Beverly Crawford.  Nieces Tammy Caesar and LaDehra Alston along with Shirley Caesar Group mainstay Bernard Sterling also honored Caesar with musical tributes.  Interspersed between the performances were humorous anecdotes, no fewer than three frenzied praise breaks, and congratulatory videos from Karen Clark-Sheard, Regina Belle, Jekalyn Carr, and Stellar Awards executive producer Don Jackson.

The honoree took the stage as the night drew to a close.  Flanked by the program participants, Pastor Caesar and the audience revisited her recent Hollywood Walk of Fame experience with video excerpts from the star dedication ceremony.  Afterward, the gospel music matriarch offered expressions of gratitude–sprinkled with humor and sermonic tuning–and treated her fans to an abbreviated version of “Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name.”

Pastor Caesar’s birthday was October 13, and Friday’s musical was the third of four services this week commemorating her birthday.  This year’s events are also in recognition of her 26th pastoral anniversary, 50-year solo music career, and star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  The celebration series culminates Sunday, October 16, at 5 PM, with a choir competition dubbed, “Battle of the Choirs.”

Dr. Bobby Jones (front) with (left to right): Bernard Sterling, Biddy Newborn, Melvin Williams, Tammy Caesar, Anthony Hill, LeDehra Alston, Beverly Crawford, Le'Andria Johnson, Ami Rushes, Teddy Campbell, Tina Campbell, Wess Morgan, and Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Choir (background). Not pictured: Arie Pope.
Dr. Bobby Jones (front) with (left to right): Bernard Sterling, Biddy Newborn, Melvin Williams, Tammy Caesar, Anthony Hill, LeDehra Alston, Beverly Crawford, Le’Andria Johnson, Ami Rushes, Teddy Campbell, Tina Campbell, Wess Morgan, and Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Choir (background). Not pictured: Arie Pope.

John Thorpe and Truth, Chosen Live DVD Recording Recap

John Thorpe and Truth
John Thorpe and Truth | Photo Credit: Libra Boyd

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

A modest crowd of roughly 250 traditional gospel enthusiasts gathered at Roxboro’s Kirby Theater Saturday night (July 16) for the live DVD recordings of John Thorpe and Truth of Rougemont, NC, and Chosen of Wilkesboro, NC.  Radio announcer David Ramsey and Bishop D.T. “Dynamite” Johnson served as emcees for the evening.

The one-hour late start caused restlessness among some in the audience, but they appeared to be instantly refreshed by the live music performances of area artists Chozen Phaze II and saxophonist James Brown, who opened the concert.

Once John Thorpe and Truth took to the stage—about 55 minutes after the late startthey wasted no time moving through the first of two five-song sets, beginning with “I Don’t Mind,” followed by the bluesy “Child of God.”  Both numbers are from an album recorded with his siblings, John Thorpe and Family Live with Dr. Bobby Jones, and are fan favorites. Still, it was the perennial hymn “Old Rugged Cross” that shifted the somewhat constrained atmosphere into extended worship.  Thorpe brought out his son Jonathan (of James Hall & Worship and Praise) to share the lead.  Jonathan’s velvet tenor was a stark contrast to his dad’s gritty baritone, but the duet was nonetheless palatable.  The worship that ensued cued a reprise before the group finished out its opening set with downhome hand-clapper, “Do What the Lord Say Do.”

Chosen | Photo Credit: Libra Boyd

While John Thorpe and Truth recessed for a wardrobe change, Chosen began its 10-song set, which included a mix of original tunes and covers of “What He’s Done for Me” (Lisa Knowles and The Brown Singers), “Thank You” (Tim Rogers and The Fellas), “Meet Me at the Gate” (B.T. Green and the Christian Harmonettes), and “Old Landmark” (Tammy Edwards and the Edwards Sisters).  An unhurried song of assurance, “Jesus is Standing There,” especially resonated with the intimate crowd:

You feel all alone sometimes, and you don’t know what to do, but still
Jesus is standing there
I’ve got friends, they’ll turn and walk away from you, but still when they walk away
Jesus is standing there
Call Him in the morning
Call Him late at night
Oh Jesus is standing there

The song’s lead singer Marshall Parks shared with the audience afterwards, “A whole lot of folks sing songs that sound good; but I want to sing a song that says something.”  When the lead mic was passed to Quinda Parks, she emphasized that Chosen came to have church.  I was convinced.  Their sermonettes, testimonies, praise break, and the atmosphere of an old-fashion revival as they neared the end of their set were proof positive.

As the night drew to a close, John Thorpe and Truth returned to complete the final set, opening with the lively title track from their current CD, “Stay with Jesus” and ending with “Thank You,” reminiscent of soul singer Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood.”

Both group’s recordings will be released as individual “live” CD and DVD projects in association with Light of Day Productions, LLC.  To pre-order, visit the artists’ websites at www.johnthorpeandtruth.com and www.chosen-ministries.com.

Caesar: "Daddy Harold, I will see you again!"

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Pastor Shirley Caesar-Williams speaks at the homegoing of her husband, Bishop Harold Ivory Williams
Pastor Shirley Caesar-Williams

A capacity crowd filled the pews and every available chair of Raleigh’s 1500-seat Mt. Calvary Word of Faith today (July 12) for the second and final day of “Celebration of Life” services for Bishop Harold Ivory Williams.

During the joyous four-hour service, a host of clergy tributes were interspersed between uplifting musical numbers from the combined choirs of Washington, DC’s Greater Mt. Calvary Holy Church.  Bishop Terence Sykes and Pastor Frenchee Wiggins each rendered stirring hymn solos.  Sykes’ a cappella rendering of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” gave rise to the morning’s first sanctuary-wide praise frenzy, and “To God Be the Glory” as ministered by Wiggins was one of Bishop Williams’ favorite songs.

Elder Hope Mason

Elders Marc and Hope Mason and Pastor Shirley Caesar-Williams also fondly remembered their beloved with family tributes.  Hope spoke first, sharing warm memories of “Daddy,” followed by her husband, Marc, who recalled invaluable albeit humorous advice he received from his new father-in-law the day he and Hope eloped. Pastor Caesar then gave reflections of “Daddy Harold,” as she lovingly called him, and expressed deep gratitude before bursting into dance and minutes later, the chorus of “He’s Working It Out For You.” At least twice, she addressed Bishop Williams directly and with admiration, first declaring, “Daddy Harold, I will see you…I will see you again!” and then, in her final words before leaving the pulpit, “We remember you, Daddy Harold.”

Additional expressions of sympathy were acknowledged from The Clark Sisters, Bishop T.D. Jakes, President Obama, and others.

Archbishop Alfred Owens, Jr., Presiding Prelate of MCHCA and spiritual son of Bishop Williams, delivered the eulogy. 

“The Last Mile”
Pastor Caesar-Williams prepares to escort “Daddy Harold,” her love of 31 years, to his resting place.

Bishop Harold Ivory Williams remembered at first of two ‘Celebration of Life’ services

The Caesar Singers sing "You Can Make It" at Friday evening's celebration of life service for Bishop Williams
The Caesar Singers sing “You Can Make It” at Friday evening’s memorial musical.

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Hundreds gathered this evening to celebrate the life of Bishop Harold Ivory Williams, Sr. at the first of two days of services for the former Presiding Prelate and Senior Bishop Emeritus of the Mount Calvary Holy Church of America (MCHCA), Inc.  Bishop Williams, who passed July 4, at age 93, was remembered as “The Patriarch, The Preacher, The Pianist.”

Among the many who gave remarks and musical tributes during the two-and-a-half hour service at Raleigh’s Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Church were Bishop Barbara Amos, Bishop George Bloomer, organist/songwriter Michael Mathis, the Caesar Singers, and the Cornerstone Church of Jesus Christ Combined Choir. 

Bishop Williams was praised for his humility, humor, leadership, scholarship, and particularly his musicianship.  In fact, many in attendance learned tonight that his middle name, Ivory, was acquired in association with a group he founded in the 1940’s, The Ivory Gospel Singers (which also had Thelma Jackson, who later sang with the Clara Ward Singers, as its member).  It happens that Mahalia Jackson was the first to refer to him by “Ivory,” causing the name–actually a fitting one, considering his gift for tickling the ivories–to remain with him.

Saturday’s national “Celebration of Life” service will begin at 11 am, at Raleigh’s Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Church, with viewing for two hours prior.  According to Bishop Kelvin Shouse, you can go to www.mchca.org for information about live streaming.

Maggie Ingram Mother's Day Celebration Recap: Daughter Almeta reflects

By Libra Boyd, Founder & Editor
Gospel Music Fever 


Although open to the public, modest was the number who weathered Saturday evening’s messy, rainy conditions to celebrate Evangelist Maggie Ingram, matriarch and lead singer of Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes, at Danville, VA’s Greater United Apostolic Church.  At 84 years of age, Maggie, hailed Virginia’s “Queen of Gospel,” is likely the oldest active female singer on the gospel quartet circuit.   

The pre-Mother’s Day service was presented by Patrick Street for Street Productions, LLC and emceed by Twonda Johnson with performances by David Wilson, the Heavenly Stars, and the Loving Sisters.  GMF’s Libra Boyd gave biographical reflections.

During the celebration, the evangelist was praised for her commitment to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ for over a half century as well as for her ongoing efforts to strengthen struggling families in her community. Notable is the gravity of sacrifices for her own five children–which eldest daughter Evangelist Almeta Ingram-Miller frequently recounts–along with her compassion and advocacy for others, especially the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated.  A third grade education, vigorous work ethic (hewn in part from Maggie’s upbringing on Mulholland’s Plantation in Coffee County, GA), and God-given musical talents of singing, songwriting, and playing the piano with no formal training have worked together in service to God and His people. 

“This is a woman that I’ve seen sacrifice,” Almeta shared candidly Saturday night. “There are five of us [children].  When God gave her a [new] house, we thought it was just for us, [but] women would be released from prison and have little babies and nowhere to go. Mama would make us double up in a room [and then tell the women], ‘Come on Baby, bring your babies; you can stay here til you get on your feet. You can stay here til you find a job.'”  Maggie didn’t just open her home as a “halfway house,” but she worked to initiate legislation permitting inmates at minimum security prisons to interact with their children through “family day” programs. 
While Almeta talks, Maggie affirms.  Both look at and cheer on each other adoringly.  When they are onstage, the chemistry between Maggie and each of her Ingramettes is simply beautiful.  Nowadays, Almeta tag teams with her mother on most of the group’s tunes.  Granddaughter Cheryl Beaver and close family friend Valerie Stewart provide supporting fiery vocals while the band blazes in the background.  Sometimes Maggie takes cues from Almeta; other times, she gives them with raised eyebrows, clasped hands and a head nod, or a reassuring smile followed by “I got it” or “Tell it, Baby.”  Between songs, Almeta’s storytelling gives Dot Norwood’s a run for its money.  One anecdotal narrative in particular reveals the heart of the Ingramettes’ music ministry:

We’ve sung to ten thousand [at the Kennedy Center], and we’ve sung to ten.  As a matter of fact, we went down to Raleigh…and the lady forgot she had booked the program…and so we were getting ready to pack up and go home.  Mama said, ‘Oh no! Set up every keyboard, set up every drum, set up the guitars and the bass.  Set up the microphones–because God has been good. And for this one lady, we’re gonna sing to the glory of God.’

Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes’ current CD, Live in Richmond, is available at www.virginiafolklife.org and according to the group’s bio, is set to be archived at the Smithsonian Institution.

Check out GMF’s Facebook page for photo highlights of this weekend’s service.


Top photo: ‘To the glory of God’Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes, (from left): Valerie Stewart, Almeta Ingram-Miller, Maggie Ingram, and Cheryl Beaver.

Durham teen, Tahmique Cameron, performs Dorsey classic, receives high praise at NCGCC ’13

Tahmique Cameron sings at the 80th Annual Session of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses
Click to enlarge
Photo | Retta Bradford


Sixteen year-old Tahmique Cameron of Durham, NC, received a standing ovation for his rendition of the Dorsey hymn “When The Gates Swing Open” during the 80th Annual Session of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, held August 3-10, in Houston, TX.  After returning to the platform for a reprise for the Soloist Bureau, he was lauded for his appreciation of traditional gospel and love of quartet music.
Rev. Dorsey—the Father of Gospel Music as well as the convention’s organizer and longtime president—undoubtedly would beam that his rich legacy is being carried on by passionate young people like Tahmique.

Inez Andrews Homegoing Recap

Yolanda Adams, Smokie Norful, and the Caravans were among those who gathered to remember Inez Andrews Friday at Apostolic Church of God in Chicago.  Andrews, a towering force and soaring voice in the famous Caravans, passed December 19, at age 83.

Dave Hoekstra of the Chicago Sun-Times provided a well-written recap (click here), and award-winning photographer David Spearman captured photos of the service (view the gallery here).  He also shared footage (click here), during which Pastor Shirley Caesar comforts the family with stirring and uplifting remarks following the Caravans’ musical numbers (“May the Work I’ve Done Speak for Me,” “Jesus Is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” and “Lord, Keep Me Day by Day”).

A Celebration Fit for a Queen!

Bishop Harold I. Williams presents his wife, Pastor Shirley Caesar, 
as the newly crowned “Queen of Gospel.”

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

“Mahalia Jackson is gone, but we have Shirley Caesar!” shouted longtime Caesar Singer, Bernard Sterling to a capacity crowd at Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church.  “We’re gonna love her while she’s here!”

A jubilant ovation erupts.  It was one of many during the five hour salute.

Every pew was packed and folding chairs were filled inside the 1500 seat sanctuary Sunday night as its pastor, Shirley Caesar, was crowned “Queen of Gospel.” 

The symbolic crown–previously worn by greats Mahalia Jackson and Albertina Walker–was passed to Walker’s protégé Caesar, whose accolades include 11 Grammy, 13 Stellar, and 18 Dove Awards; McDonald’s Golden Circle and SESAC Lifetime Achievement Awards; and induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Throughout the celebratory musical, no less than 14 performers paid tribute with several of Her Majesty’s hits like “Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name,” “Heaven,” and the perennial favorite, “No Charge.”  Pastor Caesar smiled, clapped, swayed, and occasionally stood in awe.

Even the youngest generation of gospel singers was well represented in the persons of twelve year-old Michael Boone, nine year-old Rev. Leniyus Sullivan, and eight year-old Symone “Baby Shirley” Spencer.

Also in the house as a surprise guest was Douglas Miller, whose classic “My Soul Has Been Anchored” ripened the atmosphere for a praise break.

In the styling of the British monarchy, Sunday’s coronation followed similar protocols such as Pastor Caesar being anointed with oil (left) by Bishop Harold I. Williams, Patriarch of the Mount Calvary Holy Church of America, Inc.  Dressed in an exquisite floor-length gown with dainty gold accents, the ageless beauty then rose to receive the charge from Evangelist Carolyn Sanders.  Following the charge and presentation of the Holy Bible, master of ceremony Jerry Smith of Radio One crowned Pastor Caesar, as the title “Queen of Gospel” was bestowed.  To a thunderous standing ovation, she was given a bouquet of flowers and presented with more gifts, including a trophy.

As the long evening drew to a close, Queen Shirley took to the lectern, graced the congregation with “Strong Man”–sprinkling a sermonette over its chorus–and expressed heartfelt gratitude along with a sobering exhortation.

“I charge you tonight,” she urged, “as many as who stand on my shoulders…walk holy…live holy….Live what you sing.  Live what you preach and teach.”

From left to right: twelve year-old Michael Boone sings “No Charge,” eight year-old Symone Spencer performs “Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name,” and nine year-old Rev. Leniyus Sullivan delivers the Caravans’ “Lord Keep Me Day By Day.”
Grammy-winning producer Sanchez Harley recalls how Pastor Caesar orchestrated an opportunity for him to produce on her 1983 gospel album Sailin’, which garnered a Grammy.  After citing Caesar as his favorite singer, he adds, “That [crown] is not an imaginary token crown. She is the Queen–the real deal.”

Jerry Smith, of Radio One’s The Light 103.9FM, prepares to crown Pastor Caesar as Bishop Williams and Bernard Sterling look on.

The newly crowned “Queen of Gospel” receives more gifts including a framed commemorative announcement of the ceremony and a trophy presented by Dr. Mildred Summerville (second from left), on behalf of The Diamond Club.
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Rev. James Herndon and chorus present concert of gospel pearls



Rev. James Herndon of the famed Caravans (1959-1967), and the Interdenominational Male Chorus gave a rousing concert Sunday afternoon at Durham’s Mt. Gilead Baptist Church.  Under Rev. Herndon’s direction, the chorus’s performances included hymns as well as classics by Jessy Dixon (“I Am Redeemed”), Albertina Walker (“I Can Go to God in Prayer”), Alvin Darling (“All Night”), and Walter Hawkins (“Marvelous”).  In addition to directing, in trademark fashion, Rev. Herndon moved the audience with his sermonic introductory narratives to each selection.
The Interdenominational Male Chorus was founded in the Triangle area in 2002.  The choir’s accompanist is Lennis Cooper, Jr.
Also appearing on the program was the soulful female quintet, Powerful Elegance.
GMF’s Libra Boyd has posted “I Can Go to God in Prayer,” featuring Rev. Herndon and the choir on YouTube: The Caravans’ Rev. James Herndon Sings!!.


Photo by Libra Boyd