Reverend James Cleveland
Called "The King of Gospel Music," James Cleveland developed a style and
wrote songs that continue to influence the gospel genre today.
Born in December of 1932 and raised in Chicago during the great depression, Cleveland
started singing gospel at the age of eight. Young James sang in the choir of his
grandmothers church where Thomas A. Dorsey, acknowledged by many as the father of
gospel music, was the choir director. Listening to Roberta Martin, another Dorsey
disciple, he was inspired to teach himself to play the piano. His early practice was
on the window sill at home, where he simulated black and white keys. By the time he
was in high school young James was an accomplished jazz and gospel player.
Roberta Martin, who grew to become one of the Chicago gospel pioneers and an
international star, counseled young James to write songs. Her group also helped shape his
singing. The Thorn Gospel Crusaders, a neighborhood group with whom he
sang, performed his early songs. This exposure brought his songs to the attention of
many prominent gospel artists. At a 1948 Baptist convention, Clevelands "Grace
Is Sufficient" caused a enough of a reaction for Roberta Martin to begin
publishing his works.
First recordings were made in 1950 with the Gospelaires for the Apollo
label in New York. He was featured on his own song, "Oh What A Time."
It was during this period that Roberta Martin began recording his songs. He began as an
arranger with The Caravans, a major gospel act, eventually joining them
as a singer. He was lead vocalist on "Old Time Religion" and "Solid
Rock," two important songs for this group. He then formed the first of his own
groups, the Gospel Chimes which focused attention on his abilities as a
composer, arranger and singer.
The Rev. James Cleveland died in February of 1991 in Los Angeles, California. He was 59.