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Cleveland’s got gospel music talent

James W. Wade III | 6/25/2014, 2:22 p.m.
The late Bishop Robert Hubbard was a walking historian and Cleveland oldest living recording artist gave many a wealth of ...
Elder Gonelcha Askew Sr.

Over this past weekend, I took a moment to reflect on my early days of liking gospel music. I like gospel music not because my mother made me go to church, but I think it’s in my blood from the early years of hearing the late great Rev. William T. Sawyer sing with such style and grace, to the days at Temple Baptist Church with Aaron Holbrook, Charles Sims and Bill Lawson.

Those early days for me meant hearing Lawson on the Hammond organ and my father James Wade II on the piano and me begging my mother to listen to the church broadcast every Sunday night just to hear my father stomp the wood floor while playing the piano.

Those early years helped mold and shape me to become a lover of what many call Old School gospel music. The days where musicals were held at Open Door Baptist Church and groups supported one another and had church, not a competition.

No matter how you want to look at music then or now, someone can be compared to them either way. Back then, there was Minnie Benson. Today, we have Lucretia Bolden. Back then, groups like Community Voices of Faith stole the show. We now have Inspiration Voices of Peace.

So much great musical talent is in Ohio and we have a great legacy of musicians to be proud of.

While I would be partial and say my father will always be my best musician and, to me, the first Maestro I knew, there are so many other great ones. Elder Gonelcha Askew Sr. plays with feeling each time he sits on that Hammond B3 organ and makes its talk. Earl McElrath will always be considered another Old School favorite.

The fear of calling names is that you will always forget to mention someone and they will call you and have a fit. But the 80’s was a great year when Sonny Jones changed the famous Kinsman Grill to a gospel night club called “Your Alternative” that featured so many local artists every weekend.

During this era you could hear Leviticus, The Colston Sisters, Doug Burton and The Evangelistic Team while enjoying light food and smoothies. Jerry Thomas was instrumental in bringing national talent there like Edwin Hawkins and Shirley Miller to name a few.

Those were good times in Cleveland. Richard Smith had The Greater Cleveland Choral Chapter singing in an Herb Thomas Production of “Saviour.” Madame Corene Robinson has always been able to have great musical talent and Michael Keith Jester is leading the way having the choir sing great these days.

Coming out of the African American religious experienced, gospel music can be traced to the early 17th century. Gospel music has roots in the Black oral tradition and typically utilizes a great deal of repetition. The repetition of the words allowed those who could not read the opportunity to participate in worship.

During this time, hymns and sacred songs were lined and repeated in a call and response fashion. From there, the Negro spirituals and work songs emerged. Repetition and “call and response” are accepted elements in African music, designed to achieve an altered state of consciousness we sometimes refer to as “trance,” and strengthen communal bonds.