John K. Thorpe honored at "house-wrecking" appreciation musical

RuBena Cooper-Woods (front) loosens the ceiling tiles with “I’m Working
on the Building.”  The group New Creation was among the
house-wreckers at John K. Thorpe’s appreciation musical.  The honoree
is in the background, behind Cooper-Woods, looking on.
By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Thankfully, the modest structure of Timberlake, NC’s New Hope Person Missionary Baptist Church is still in tact after the major house-wrecking that occurred there Saturday night, August 20th.

The occasion was an appreciation musical for John Kermit Thorpe, lead singer of sibling group, the Thorpe Family and a long time member of the Brower Brothers of New Jersey.  The four hour celebration, emceed by WRXO’s David Ramsey, featured hard-driving quartet music from the Thorpe Family, New Hope Person Male Chorus–of which Thorpe is also a member, the Spiritual Lights of Rougemont, New Creation, the True Lights of Bahama, the Spiritual Messengers, 14 year-old Tahmique Cameron, and Minister Brenda Hunt-Moore, who when describing Thorpe’s passion, commented that he is the only person she knows who will travel “a thousand miles to sing one song, won’t get paid a dime, and will come back just as happy as he can be.”  Among several other tributes and presentations–some tearful and some humorous–were congratulatory letters from Mayor Bill Bell of Durham and the Durham County Board of Commissioners, and special remarks from host pastor, Rev. W.L. Richardson.
At the close of the evening, Thorpe expressed his gratitude to the near capacity crowd before singing “Child of God” from his CD In His Name, followed by James Fortune’s “I Believe” as a special dedication to his wife, Stella.
Thorpe was honored for his community involvement, his dedication to gospel music, and his contributions throughout the east coast in advancement of the art form.

Above left:  John and Stella Thorpe enjoy one of the numerous tributes of the four hour service.

Above right:  James Thorpe (left) and brother McCollins transform “He Understands, He’ll Say Well Done'” into a high gear foot stomper with the Thorpe Family.

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.

Sizzlin' This Week (8/8/11) – "Jesus Is Love"

My pick this week differs from the usual in that it has not yet been recorded.  Well, actually, Lionel Richie’s “Jesus Is Love” has been recorded, first by his own funk/soul group The Commodores in 1980, and later by several other artists both secular and gospel, including Melvin Williams and Smokie Norful & Heather Headlley.  Richie himself also performed it at the memorial service of his friend Michael Jackson.

My pick, however, is the one performed by none other than “Mama” Sue Roseberry last night on BET’s Sunday Best.  Honestly, the song has never been one of my favorites.  I know.  I’m probably the only one who thinks “Jesus Is Love” is an okay tune, but nothing extra.

Until last night.

Roseberry’s styling and ad libs were nothing short of brilliant, as she embarked upon making it more “wedding-y” (her word) to keep with the show’s “I Do” theme week.  It was enough to stir Donnie McClurkin–and not exactly in the Holy Ghost, either.  In fact, I wrote to BET.  Well, it was really a status update on my Facebook wall:

Dear BET Sunday Best: Mama Sue needs to record that NOW!!!  I don’t even like that song, but her version should become the definitive!

I’m telling you, Fever readers, Mama Sue’s cover of “Jesus Is Love” is a hit waiting to happen.

Recap: An Evening with Brother Joseph "JoJo" Wallace & Friends

By Libra Boyd

Last weekend, a grinning and grateful Brother Joseph “JoJo” Wallace and his family filled the first rows of Durham’s Union Baptist Church.  The occasion was the celebration of his 65 years of ministry with one of the baddest quartets of gospel’s Golden Era, the Sensational Nightingales.  The year he joined as tenor and lead guitarist, 1946, predates the birthdates of most of the people who came to pay homage.

The appreciation musical was delightful.  The ambiance was replete with soft lighting and numerous tributes as family and group photos of Brother JoJo displayed on the projection screen.  Amid the dimly lit sanctuary, Brother JoJo was still quite visible at various times either waving his hand, smiling broadly, applauding joyously or listening attentively.
The only disappointments of the evening were the mediocre turnout and the noticeable absence of some well-known nearby gospel music industry comrades (save Reuben and Ruth Cooper, original members of the Triangle area’s legendary Cooper Four, a traditional group who has sung to folks in Radioland live every Sunday since 1952) for whom Brother JoJo was a way-paver.
His name is in gospel music books and encyclopedias, etched in the American Gospel Quartet Hall of Fame, and listed among nominees for the coveted Grammy Award.  Brother JoJo would never tell you of these accolades himself, though; maybe this is why some are unaware of his international acclaim.  In fact, the mention of the word “legend” causes him to clasp his jaw-dropped face and announce, “Aw! You’re making me blush!”  He’s just a blessed, spry 84 year-old servant of the Most High, he insists, who has been graced with the health and strength to travel across the country and overseas, ministering to the masses in song.
Brother JoJo’s unassuming disposition was spoken of by several who offered tributes during the musical, including former journalists Billy Warden and his wife Lucy Inman.  The celebration also included musical salutes by Carolyn Satterfield, Tony & the Magnificent Voices, Rufus Poole & the Stars of Faith, 12 year-old Kaleb Robinson, John Thorpe, who sang, fittingly, “It’s Your Time,” and New Hope Person Male Chorus with Libra Nicole Boyd, who traveled back in time to 1955 with the Gales’ tune “Somewhere to Lay My Head.” 
The most melodic sounds of the celebration came from The Hillian Sisters, a pre-Golden Era sounding trio whose harmonies, minus the soaring vocals, were as sweet as Chicago’s Barrett Sisters.  Darrell Luster (pictured at right), Gales’ former lead singer, took to the platform to sing two selections and to read a tribute from Malaco Records.  The Malaco family praised Brother JoJo for “[being] a rock for us during troubling times.”  Congratulatory letters were also received from President and First Lady Obama, Governor Bev Perdue, and Mayor Bill Bell.
The honoree along with the Sensational Nightingales—Horace “Sug” Thompson, Larry Moore, and guest singer and former member Ricky Luster—also treated the audience to two numbers.  Hardly able to contain himself, an overwhelmed Brother JoJo began right away: “You all just don’t know how excited I am.  God be praised!  All honor and all glory belongs to God….My heart is rejoicing.  I want to say to the saints of God, keep your hands in God’s hand, and don’t give up.  Listen carefully.”  Straightway, he strummed opening chords on his guitar, awaiting Luster’s mellow interpretation of  “Don’t Give Up.”  From there, the audience rose to its feet on the brisk-paced “Rapture,” with Thompson and Brother JoJo taking turns with the lead vocals.  The first verse, “some sweet day,” ended with a signature gesture: Brother JoJo swinging his guitar into the heavens.
At the close of the evening, the guest of honor trotted to the platform, either shaking hands or hugging everyone on his route, to give remarks.
“Thank you, Lord Jesus,” he said toward the sky, his tall, slender frame leaning into the mic.  Then to his guests, he added, “You have given me flowers that I can see today.  I have been on this journey for a long time, and I’m not ready to stop now.”

Top photo: GMF’s Libra Boyd congratulates Brother JoJo.

Second photo: Darrell Luster sings “Every Promise in the Book is Mine.”
Third photo: The Gales render “Don’t Give Up” for the audience.

Lucy Inman talks about compiling a press kit for the Nightingales that caught the attention of then-newspaper reporter Billy Warden (right), led to a front page feature on Brother JoJo, and resulted in Inman and Warden’s courtship and marriage.

The Hillian Sisters perform “All of These Years.”

John Thorpe serenades Brother JoJo with Luther Barnes’ “It’s Your Time.”

Seated at the keyboard, Libra Nicole Boyd cues in lead singer Bernard Thorpe and New Hope Person Male Chorus on the Gales’ 1955 hit “Somewhere to Lay My Head.”

Larry Moore, Ricky Luster, and members of Tony & The Magnificent Voices enjoy a musical tribute.

Program participants Dr. Tonya Armstrong, Dr. W.E. Daye, Pastor Thomas Bannister, III, Dr. Johnny Branch, and Rev. David Bell look on as Brother JoJo is feted.


-->Twelve year-old Kaleb Robinson meets Brother JoJo--a dream come true.  Kaleb sang "Face to Face" earlier in the evening.  This is not just some kid who gets props for being young and cute; the boy can sing.  Kaleb brought the house to its feet.  I told him afterwards that I refuse to wait: I want his autograph now.  Trust me when I tell you that "Kaleb Robinson" is a name you want to keep in mind. All photos by Libra Boyd