Friday, September 17, 2010

How Well Do You Know Your Detroit Gospel History? Part 1

                                             Interesting Facts About Detroit Gospel 

§  The Reverend James Cleveland moved to Detroit around 1949 to direct the music department at New Bethel Baptist Church.  Four years later, he was appointed Minister of Music at Our Faith Prayer Tabernacle Church where he directed the Voices of Tabernacle Choir with whom he recorded his first hit, “The Love of God” in 1960.

§  At the age of 15, Della Reese joined the Original Hutchins Gospel Singers and directed choirs at Detroit’s New Liberty Baptist Church.  She and Ernestine Rundless formed a female quartet in 1947 with Marie Waters and DeLillian Mitchell called the Meditation Singers.  The group brought gospel to secular showrooms across the country including the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, the famed Copacabana in New York and Detroit’s 20 Grand.  On another note, Rundless’ husband, Rev. E.A. Rundless who pastored New Liberty, was a member of the legendary gospel group, the Soul Stirrers before moving to Detroit.


§  Affectionately called “The Big Three,” Elma Hendrix Parham, organized the women’s chorus at the Greater New Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, founded and directed the Community Youth Ensemble as well as owning the popular Elma and Carl’s House of Music on Owen Street in Detroit and owned her own music publishing company; Mattie Moss Clark, founder of the Southwest Michigan State Choir, the first COGIC State Choir organized (1959) and mother of the famed Clark Sisters; and Lucylle Lemon who served as a choir director at New Bethel Baptist Church and founded the Lucylle Lemon Gospel Chorus, the first community choir organized in Detroit (1943). Another Lucylle Lemon note: Mom and Pop Winans met each other as teenagers while members of the Lemon Gospel Chorus.

§  Rev. James Lofton bought the Paradise Theatre (now Orchestra Hall) and founded the Church Of Our Prayer.  Rev. Lofton and the church were noted for their 300 voice choir who performed concerts at the Olympia Stadium and the State Fairgrounds.

§  Vanessa Bell Armstrong first drew the attention of gospel music fans as a member of the Detroit based choir, The Voices of Heaven during the early to mid 1970’s. Under the leadership of Rev. James Marks and Rev. Ronald Kersey, young Vanessa and choir brought a gospel feel to the pop/inspirational hit “Put A Little Love in Your Heart.”

§  As a teenager, Rev. Charles Nicks, Jr. played organ and later recorded with another Detroit gospel landmark, The Harold Smith Majestics.  He later became the musician for Detroit’s St. James Baptist Church, the church where he would eventually become pastor.  Rev. Nicks and the choir helped to bring attention to another budding, charismatic director, Jimmy “J.D.” Dowell.  
      Jimmy "JD" Dowell and Rev. Charles H. Nicks Jr.


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