7 Gospel Concerts I Won’t Forget: Part 2

7 Gospel Concerts I Won’t Forget: Part 2

Last week was fun. We took a stroll down memory lane and re-visited some classic concerts by the Blendwrights, Dannibelle Hall and the Midnight Musicals at the annual COGIC Convocations. Let’s close with these four.

The Edwin Hawkins Singers at the WEUP Radio Station

If you’re an Oakwoodite, WEUP needs no introduction. For years it has been the top gospel radio station in Huntsville. Back in the day they would have live concerts at the station featuring some of the nation’s top gospel artists.

Now this was literally music to our ears because the Oakwood Church wasn’t exactly fond of gospel music. As far as they were concerned, if you looked up the word “Devil”, you’d probably see a picture of a drum! These days when I hear folk like Travis Greene and J.J. Hairston, and Kierra Sheard in the sanctuary, I’m still looking around for Elder Ward to cut the mics off.

The night the Hawkins family was at WEUP, I was there early, but I was already late. Why? Because the auditorium was the size of your living room….and I don’t even have to know how large your living room is! The place was packed but the music was wonderful. Tramaine, Daniel, Lynette, Walter, Edwin….” Oh Happy Day”, “Come and Go with Me”, “Early in the Morning”, “Here’s the Reason” and on and on and on. Enough said. That one I won’t forget.

James Cleveland in Columbus, Georgia

Pastoring in Phoenix City, Alabama and living in Columbus, Georgia was an experience. The people were great, but the area was isolated. Nobody was “coming through” Columbus on the way to someplace else. So, I literally could not believe the radio announcer when he said that James Cleveland would be in concert in Columbus. The city was a decent size, but Cleveland was by far the biggest thing in gospel music at that time.

I got an even greater shock when they announced the location, a church just about a mile from our home. I squeezed into a pew and I wasn’t disappointed. No praise and worship back then, they prayed and gave him the mike. For 2 solid hours he took the Cleveland Singers through his hits and classic hymn arrangements. He was a master. To this day, his Gospel Music Workshop of America is the largest annual gospel music convention in the world.

Thomas Whitfield in Orange County

Thomas Whitfield was a musician’s musician. Michael O. Jackson, one of my former Ministers of Music, traveled with him for a period and had amazing stories. Frankly, early on I didn’t particularly care for him. Some of his music reminded me of the progressive jazz albums my father loved, but that I couldn’t quite get with. Too dissonant for my taste. Strange chord structures. But the more I listened the more I understood.

In 1977 he formed the Thomas Whitfield Singers in Detroit and they changed a generation. Over the years, groundbreaking gospel artists like: Kirk Franklin, Donald Lawrence, Fred Hammond, Richard Smallwood, Yolanda Adams, Ricky Dillard, Kim Burrill and others have been asked about their musical influences. There was at least one name that appeared on everyone’s list. Thomas Whitfield.

I heard him in concert in Orange County California in 88 or 89. They opened with a strong praise and worship set by the host church and house band. Whitfield came on with some of his Detroit based background singers-Michael Fletcher, Gwen Morton, Larry Whitfield-but they added some local singers. It was seamless. They moved through all of his classics and more. Songs like:

“We Need A Word From The Lord”
“Hallelujah Anyhow”
“Oh, How I Love Jesus”
“Nothing But The Blood”
“Precious Jesus”

Two words kept coming to mind as I listened. Excellence and genius. I won’t forget that concert.

John P. Kee at Academy Cathedral in Inglewood

Some people collect rocks and coins. I’ve always collected concerts. There’s nothing like the energy and creativity of a live concert, and for years the king of live concerts was John P. Kee. Kirk Franklin and others patterned their concerts after his. The energy, the excellence, the humor, the dancing, the give-a-ways. All of these were John P. Kee standards. He was dubbed the Prince of Gospel Music for good reason.

Now, if you’re going to be a collector of concerts, you must master the fine art of sneaking in. Money is not the issue, it’s the space. That’s how I heard John P. Kee in back to back concerts at the Academy Cathedral in the early 90s. The 5pm concert was crazy, and I was determined to stay for the 7pm concert. My only problem is that security cleared the building between concerts. Somehow, they thought I was a part of the band and let me stay in…probably because that’s what I told them. Pray for me. It was a great concert.

So, those are my 7. What about concerts or artists that you remember? Who are the artists you enjoy today?

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