James Cleveland

For the United States Representative, see James Colgate Cleveland.
Rev. James Cleveland
Birth name James Edward Cleveland
Born December 5, 1931
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died February 9, 1991 (age 59)
Culver City, California, U.S.
Genres Gospel, traditional black gospel, urban contemporary gospel, modern soul
Occupation(s) Singer, musician, composer, arranger, recording artist, performer, music minister
Instruments Vocals, piano
Labels Byg, Gamble and Huff, HOB, HRB Music Company, King James, Musidisc, Nashboro, Phoenix, Savoy, Sonorous, Soul Parade, States, Thunderbird, UpFront
Associated acts Albertina Walker, Roberta Martin, The Caravans, The Gospel All-Stars, The Gospel Chimes, The Gospelaires, The James Cleveland Singers

The Reverend Dr. James Edward Cleveland (December 5, 1931 – February 9, 1991) was a gospel singer, musician, and composer. Known as the King of Gospel music, Cleveland was a driving force behind the creation of the modern gospel sound by incorporating traditional black gospel, modern soul, pop, and jazz in arrangements for mass choirs. Throughout his career, Cleveland appeared on hundreds of recordings and earned 4 grammy awards. He was the first gospel musician to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Early life and career

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Cleveland began singing as a boy soprano at Pilgrim Baptist Church where Thomas A. Dorsey was minister of music and Roberta Martin was pianist for the choir. He strained his vocal cords as a teenager while part of a local gospel group, leaving the distinctive gravelly voice that was his hallmark in his later years. The change in his voice led him to focus on his skills as a pianist and later as a composer and arranger. For his pioneering accomplishments and contributions, he is regarded by many to be one of the greatest gospel singers that ever lived.[1]

Musical career

Work with the Gospelaires

In 1950, Cleveland joined the Gospelaires, a trio led by Norsalus McKissick and Bessie Folk. His arrangements modernized such traditional standards as "(Give Me That) Old Time Religion" and "It's Me O Lord". After the trio disbanded, an associate of the group, Roberta Martin, hired him as a composer and arranger.

The Caravans

Cleveland subsequently went to work for Albertina Walker, popularly referred to as the "Queen of Gospel" and The Caravans as a composer, arranger, pianist, and occasional singer/narrator.[2] In November 1954, Albertina Walker provided him the opportunity to do his very first recording. By staying out of the studio for a while, she convinced States Records to allow him to record with her group. He continued to record with The Caravans until States closed thdown in 1957.[3]

Throughout this period, he recorded with other groups like The Gospel All-Stars and The Gospel Chimes, mixing pop ballad influences with traditional shouting.

In 1959, he recorded a version of Ray Charles' hit, "Hallelujah I Love Her So", as a solo artist.

Savoy Records

James Cleveland signed with Savoy Records in 1962, going on to release a huge catalog of black gospel recordings, many of which were recorded in a live concert setting.

The Love of God

He became known by more than just the professionals within gospel music with his version of the Soul Stirrers' song, "The Love of God", backed by the Voices of Tabernacle from Detroit, Michigan. Rev. Cleveland moved to Los Angeles, California, to become Minister of Music at Grace Memorial Church of God in Christ where he attained even greater popularity working with keyboardist Billy Preston and the Angelic Choir of Nutley, New Jersey. His 1963 recording of "Peace Be Still", an obscure 18th-century piece, sold hundreds of thousands of copies. He would then return to the touring with the newly organized James Cleveland Singers which included Odessa McCastle, Georgia White, Eugene Bryant, and Billy Preston, among others.

In 1964, Cleveland re-organized The James Cleveland Singers which included Odessa McCastle, Roger Roberts, and Gene Viale.

In 1965, Cleveland added Clyde Brown and Charles Barnett to his group which by then was traveling extensively throughout the United States and abroad into the late 1960s, performing in all major venues. This collaboration produced such recordings as "Heaven That Will Be Good Enough For Me", "Two Wings", and "The Lord Is Blessing Me Right Now".

From the 1970s until 1990, Cleveland would bring together a number of artists to back him on appearances and records. Additionally, he himself backed other acts, contributing to the recordings of such well known artists as Aretha Franklin and Elton John. He also continued to appear and record with some of the most notable gospel choirs of the time.

The documentary film "Gospel" (1983) features James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir, Walkter Hawkins and the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Shirley Caesar, Twinkie Clark and the Clark Sisters. The film was directed by David Leivick and Frederick A. Ritzenberg.

Gospel Workshop of America

Cleveland capitalized on his success by founding his own choir, the Southern California Community Choir, as well as Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church which grew from ten to thousands of members throughout the remainder of his life. During this time, he taught others how to achieve the modern gospel sound through his annual Gospel Singers Workshop Convention put on by the Gospel Music Workshop of America (or, the GMWA), an organization that Cleveland co-founded with Albertina Walker and which now has over 150 chapters with 30,000 members. The GMWA has produced, among others, John P. Kee, Kirk Franklin, and Yolanda Adams.


On February 9, 1991, James Cleveland died in Culver City, California.[4] He was 59. Some reports list the cause of death as congestive heart failure stating that the singer had fallen into a coma shortly before his death, he died a legend of gospel music.[5][6][7][8] He is interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.[9][10]


Following Cleveland's death in February 1991, a number of controversies arose surrounding his estate which at the time was estimated to be worth between $4 and $6 million.[11][12]

Andre M. Cleveland

In October 1991, music producer Andre M. Cleveland (then-aged 34) filed suit against James Cleveland's estate claiming to be Cleveland's adopted son.[11]

Jean Ervin/LaShone Cleveland

Also in October 1991, Jean Ervin, a member of the Cleveland-founded Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church, claimed that she was the mother of Cleveland's only biological child, daughter LaShone Cleveland (b. 1965).[11] Ervin also stated that she believed that Andre M. Cleveland was not adopted as he was claiming but was merely one of the many "homeless" children that the late-singer took into his home over the years.[11]

Christopher Harris

In February 1992, Cleveland's then-foster son, Christopher Harris (formerly Christopher Harris Cleveland), filed a lawsuit against Cleveland's estate claiming that Cleveland sexually abused him over a period of five years and infected him with the HIV virus which he claims Cleveland contracted through same-sex liaisons. The case was settled on undisclosed terms.[6][7][8][13][14]



  1. Cohen, Aaron (May 28, 2006). "Gospel Festival to honor sounds and work of James Cleveland". Tribune.
  2. Chicago Tribune, October 9, 2010
  3. The United and States Labels Part II http://campber.people.clemson.edu/unitedstates2.html Accessed August 12, 2009.
  4. Malcolm Venable (May 2003). "The Moving Spirit". City Limits Magazine.
  5. "James Cleveland, Gospel Voice".
  6. 1 2 Graham, Rhonda (October 23, 1994). "And The Choir Sings On". Sunday News Journal.
  7. 1 2 Thomas, Stephen B., Ph.D., F.A.A.H.B. (January–February 2000). "The Legacy of Tuskegee: AIDS and African-Americans".
  8. 1 2 Cobb, J. Matthew. "Oh Happy Gay". Prayze Hymn Entertainment. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007.
  9. "Cemetery and grave marker information for the Rev. James Edward Cleveland". findagrave.com. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  10. "The official website for Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California". inglewoodparkcemetery.com. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  11. 1 2 3 4 "Man Seeks Share of the Rev. James Cleveland's Estate". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  12. James Cleveland estate worth between $4 and $6 million. Jet magazine. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  13. James Cleveland Infected L.A. Youth With HIV, $9 Mil. Lawsuit Claims. Jet magazine. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  14. Graham, Rhonda (October 23, 1994). "And The Choir Sings On". Sunday News Journal. Retrieved May 23, 2014.

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/23/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.