Dr. E. E. Cleveland: A Black History Giant

Dr. E.E.Cleveland: A Black History Giant

He was no more than 6’3, but to the world he seemed larger than life. Dr. E. E. Cleveland. I actually heard him before I saw him. As a child, we’d listen to the recording of his 1966 evangelistic campaign in Port of Spain, Trinidad. At the close of that meeting over 1000 people were baptized – a first for the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Born in Huntsville Alabama in 1921, he was a man of amazing gifts and scholarship. He authored 15 books, lectured regularly at prominent universities, trained over 1000 ministers, and served the church effectively at several levels. He was the most prolific evangelist in the SDA church, baptizing over 16,000 people.

He had a passion for people-especially people of color. He organized a campus chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. at Oakwood College when he was a student. He participated in the historic March on Washington in 1963. He crossed paths with Dr. Martin King and Dr. Ralph Abernathy during the civil rights movement and he was clearly the equivalent of Dr. King to the Adventist Church. He was the co-founder of the Human Relations Committee for the General Conference of SDAs. He was a tireless champion for social justice inside and outside the church.

But the personal encounters and connections are what marked me. Four of them influence me to this day.

Encounter Number One

Dr. Cleveland left the General Conference and came to Oakwood University in 1977. His class on Public Evangelism was probably the most popular class on campus. Attended by religion majors and non-religion majors alike, it was literally standing room only in the classroom. The class was already full when I registered in 1979, but they told me to just go to class and perhaps someone might drop out.

I could hardly get in the door for the press. Somehow I was able to enroll in the class and everyday was amazing! It was part revival, part evangelistic campaign, part college class. The stories, the testimonies, the humor, the passion, the insight. I had never had a classroom experience like that and I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to reproduce it in my own classroom ever since.

Encounter Number Two

As a religion student, I got to know Dr. Cleveland well. Frankly, I was in awe of him. I would soak in every suggestion and hang on every word. In the late 70s the campus and church community were always struggling with some legalistic teaching or off-shoot group- Shepard’s Rods, Brinsmeads, you name it. I set up an appointment to speak to Dr. Cleveland about salvation and sanctification.

He spoke about grace in a way that I’d never heard it before. Tears rolled down his face as he told me:

  • “We are justified, before we are qualified.”
  • “We are accepted, before we are acceptable.”
  • “We are trusted, before we are trust worthy.”
  • “We are declared perfect, while we are being perfected.”

This from a man who preached passionately against sin and who many felt was amazingly arrogant. They didn’t quite get him. As powerful a figure as he was, he was sensitive, almost overly so. What I saw was a man who was so grateful for what God had done, that he had no filter sharing it. He was so confident in his salvation, that at times it could be mistaken for overconfidence in himself…… and he could be a bit arrogant.

Encounter Number Three

When Dr. Cleveland retired from Oakwood, I was the Director of Church Growth and Discipleship in the Southeastern California conference. For a couple of years, they split his courses across the faculty, but in 2007 they asked me to join the Religion faculty of Oakwood University. My concentration is Church Growth and Evangelism, so I was effectively Dr. Cleveland’s successor. I taught his classes.

That year, I accepted the position after the class schedules were printed. Dr. Cleveland’s name was still on the class schedule when the students came back from summer break. In short, the students came to class expecting to see E.E. but instead they saw me! It took a minute or two for the students to realize the cruel switch, but when they did….it was Not pretty!!

I knew how they felt. There was no way anyone could fill Dr. Cleveland’s shoes. Certainly not me. But he was always there for encouragement and counsel. I spent hours listening to him. Even as his steps slowed, his mind remained sharp and he was a blessing until the time of his death in August of 2009.

Today

Last year I became the Director of the Bradford, Cleveland, Brooks, Leadership Center on the campus of Oakwood University. Our lives intersect again.  Today we are teaching a changing church the unchanging principles that marked these men’s ministries. There will never be another E. E. Cleveland, but his contributions live on. I’ll make sure of that.

7 Artists Kirk Franklin Should Thank – Part 2

7 Artists Kirk Franklin Should Thank – Part 2

Last week reminded me how powerful and personal gospel music is. Musical artists we’ve never met can feel like family, because we’ve heard their voices as often as family. In short, these lists are personal and that’s what makes them so different and so revealing.

We’re looking at artists that paved the way for the Kirk Franklins of today. Many of you responded with your own lists and they were great. Names like Thomas Dorsey, Roberta Martin, Alex Bradford, the Fairfield Four, and the Blendwrights, to name a few.  All great names.  In the future we’ll look specifically at choirs, quartets, COGIC artists, and Adventist artists.

But although all of the pioneers were groundbreakers, some of them faced extra-ordinary criticism from the religious community for their music.  When I hear artists like Jonathan Nelson, Karen Clark, the Walls Group, and J.Moss sing at the Oakwood University church, I can almost hear the legendary pastor of that church, Elder Eric Ward, turning over in his grave.  At one point, they not only banned drums in that church, but they banned audio tracks that had drums on them! Times have changed.

It’s that element of Kirk Franklin’s genius that I see reflected in the people on this list of 7. Artists who were ahead of their time. Artists who endured until their ministry went from extreme to standard. Artists who were banned but who are now honored. We started with Thomas Whitfield, Mahalia Jackson, and Edwin Hawkins. 7 is not nearly a long enough list, but let’s go.

James Cleveland

A native of Chicago and pianist for the legendary Albertina Walker and Thomas Dorsey, most people don’t realize how monumental the ministry of James Cleveland actually was. He strained his voice at an early age, but it left him with that signature “voice of gravel” that was a gospel music staple.

Cleveland was the driving force behind the birth of “contemporary” gospel music. He traveled the country with the Cleveland Singers and the Southern California Community Choir performing to crowds of thousands. He won 4 Grammys and was the first gospel artist to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Today his influence lives on through the Gospel Music Workshop of America that he founded with Albertina Walker. Today it has over 200 chapters with 30,000 plus members.

Andre Crouch

His songbook is broad and reads like a contemporary church hymnal:

  • The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power
  • Soon and Very Soon
  • Jesus Is The Answer
  • Take Me Back
  • Through It All
  • My Tribute (To God Be The Glory)
  • It Won’t Be Long
  • Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus
  • Let The Church Say Amen

His music not only brings back memories, but it brings back emotions, and musicals, and graduations, and funerals. Andre Crouch music was practically the sound track for black church life for years. But it was not without controversy. He was the principle figure in the Jesus music movement that brought contemporary music into the church in the 60s and 70s. He was also the first major black artist to cross over into the Anglo Christian music market. (CCM).

His music is heard in the films, Color Purple, The Lion King, and many more. He worked with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Quincy Jones, Diana Ross and a long list of secular artists. But it’s nearly impossible to find a gospel artist that does not list him as an influence or trailblazer.

The Winans

I was helping a church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi one summer and went to a radio station to record a radio spot. They gave me some new albums to choose my music from and I picked up, “Introducing the Winans.” For the next hour I couldn’t get past the first track, The Question Is. It was amazing.

Over their career, those 4 brothers from Detroit won multiple Grammys, Doves, Stellars, and a host of other awards. They were known for their crossover appeal and often appeared on R&B charts, collaborating with Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker and others. They are still impacting gospel music today as solo artists along with several of their siblings, including B.B. and C.C Winans.

It’s important to note that they were introduced to the music world by Andre Crouch. No Andre Crouch, no Winans. No Winans, no Commissioned or Witness. No Commissioned, no Fred Hammond or Marvin Sapp…and on it goes.

John P. Kee

“How did he get on the list?” I hear some of you. Here’s why:

  • First, I love him!
  • Second, I think he’s one of the best combinations of traditional, contemporary, quartet, and choir music ever.
  • Third, at his height-and I’ve heard them all- he was the best live performer in the business, and Franklin’s early concerts were a rip-off…I mean “homage” to Kee. (You didn’t realize gospel music fans could be so snarky….get over it!)

When Kirk Franklin first arrived with the Family, John P. Kee and the New Life Community Choir were the hottest young act in gospel music. His energy, his grooves, his dancing, his jokes, his musicianship, his business genius…have all knocked down walls for the Kirk Franklins of this world.

A former drug dealer turned preacher, he is currently the Senior Pastor of New Life City of Praise. He continues to travel and perform across the country.

Ok, that’s it. I gotta stop. I could really double this list and still not be done. As I said, gospel music is powerful and personal. So, who’s on your list? Who would you take off of mine? Comments?

7 Artists Kirk Franklin Should Thank

“7 Artists Kirk Franklin Should Thank”

My Public Evangelism class was about to start and we were discussing contemporary gospel music. Kirk Franklin will be in Huntsville this year during our annual Alumni Weekend here at Oakwood University. Franklin, of course, is arguably the most powerful figure in black gospel music today. He has won numerous awards, including 12 Grammys and a host of Stellar Awards, Dove Awards, and Billboard awards. Since his debut album Kirk Franklin and the Family in 1993, he has stayed at the top of the gospel music world.

But it occurred to me as we spoke, that Franklin is almost 50 years old now. So I asked the students, “ How many of you are Kirk Franklin fans?” Most of them were, so I pushed it a bit further.

“ Name some gospel music artists who were popular before Kirk Franklin.” Silence.  

“ Have you heard of Mahalia Jackson?” Nothing.    

“ Edwin Hawkins?”  Blank stares.

“ What about James Cleveland?”  One of my students responded, “ Yeah, I think I read about him in my class on The History of African American Music.” Oh, that hurt. It made me feel as old as I actually am. I had a mind to flunk the entire class. What are we teaching these kids!!!!

So, of course I adjusted my blog schedule to address this blasphemy. Let’s take a look at some musical pioneers who laid the foundation for the Travis Greenes and Ty Tribbetts and Tasha Cobbs and Walls Groups and countless others. Let’s look at 7 artists that Kirk Franklin and an army of other contemporary gospel music artists should thank.

Thomas Whitfield

Last week Kirk Franklin did a tribute to the Top 5 Gospel Legends on his Sirius FM radio channel.  He noted that Whitfield had the greatest impact on his music. A strange name to some but an absolute legend to many. From his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, Thomas Whitfield literally changed the direction of black gospel music.

From the Clark Sisters, to Commissioned, to Vanessa Bell Armstrong, to the Winans (all 100 of them), to Yolanda Adams, to Paul Morton, to Donald Lawrence, to even Aretha Franklin. Every one of them had a little Thomas Whitfield in them.  The “Maestro” as Whitfield was affectionately known, was a singer, arranger, writer, and innovator, who produced for each of those artists and many more.

In 1977 he organized the legendary Thomas Whitfield Company with his friend Tyrone Hemphill, and for the next 15 years they influenced the industry with classics like: Precious Jesus, Walk in the Light, and Oh, How I Love Jesus. Whitfield passed in 1992, but the Thomas Whitfield Company has continued to sing and keep his memory alive.

Edwin Hawkins

I distinctly remember black Adventist church music pre and post Edwin Hawkins. Before the Edwin Hawkins Singers exploded onto the gospel music landscape in 1968/69, most Adventist choirs thought they were hot when they sang “ Elijah Rock” or “ Soon ah Will Be Done.”   And the closest we came to contemporary gospel was “Father Abraham” at M.V. But the Hawkins family changed it all.

Edwin Hawkins was the originator of urban contemporary gospel music. It sounds strange to say “was” because he passed away less than a month ago. Born in Oakland, California, he played the piano with his family and other gospel groups from the age of 7. But in 1968 he produced an album with the Northern California State Youth Choir (COGIC), and later the Edwin Hawkins Singer that included the groundbreaking, “Oh Happy Day.”

The song, “Oh Happy Day” was the forerunner for every contemporary gospel song that ever crossed over onto the pop charts. It was an international hit selling over 7 million copies worldwide.  In 1969 it was the number one pop song in France, Germany, and the Netherlands and number two in the U.K. and Ireland. Amazing for a simple, straight- forward gospel song that declared:

“Oh, Happy Day, Oh Happy Day…. When Jesus washed…. He washed my sins away…. Oh, Happy Day.”

Mahalia Jackson

You could make the argument that it all started with Mahalia Jackson. (Although I’m sure some Thomas Dorsey and Rosetta Tharpe fans will disagree.) But Mahalia Jackson took the same kind of hits from the church in the 50s and 60s that Kirk Franklin took in the 90s. She was the recognized Queen of Gospel Music, but she was under constant criticism for,“ bringing that jazz into the church.” Sound familiar?

Born in New Orleans but raised in Chicago, she was the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall. At her height she toured America and Europe  billed as the World’s Greatest Gospel Singer. She was also in a number of motion pictures including the timeless tear-jerker, Imitation of Life. The legendary Harry Belafonte once described her as,” the single most powerful black woman in the United States.”

Mahalia Jackson recorded more than 30 albums during her lifetime. Her hits included:

 

  • How I Got Over
  • Holding My Saviour’s Hand
  • Amazing Grace
  • Remember Me
  • Roll Jordan Roll

 

But in 1948 she recorded the William Herbert Brewster classic, How I Got Over, and it sold more than 8 million copies. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame In 1998.  All of her professional career she was pressured to follow the money and crossover into “secular” music, but she resisted. The greatest pressure came from her husband Ike, and they eventually divorced over the matter in 1941.

Mahalia Jackson was a pillar of the civil rights movement. In 1963 she sang at the historic March on Washington before Dr. Martin King spoke. And at the end of his message it was Mahalia Jackson who inspired him when she shouted out, “Tell them about the dream Martin!” And he did.

So, there you have it. Those are my first 3, with 4 to come.  Do you agree? Disagree? Who’s on your list?

How To Keep Going

How To Keep Going

Well, this is the first week of February and reality has set in. The health clubs are clearing out, the treadmills are gathering dust, and the diet is done.  Millions of people have discovered that resolutions are a lot easier to make than they are to keep. If the researchers at Forbes magazine are right, by Valentine’s Day most of our remaining resolutions will be ancient history.

But for the child of God, that’s not a problem. God doesn’t limit fresh starts to new years. Every day offers a new beginning. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness!” Lamentations 3:22,23.  That’s good news!

This month we’ve studied some very important ingredients to lasting change.

  • Consistent Personal Devotion. It’s important to spend some time each day with God in prayer and study. The goal is not necessarily quality or quantity, but consistency.
  • Cell Membership or Community. There is a level of growth that you’ll never get in your secret closet. We need the encouragement and accountability of people to be help us grow.
  • Celebration. Worship, corporate worship is what we need. Go to church. The gifts of the Spirit operating in the worship service and the members themselves, will help you grow.

But let’s close this series out with 3 final principles or practices to help us to keep going in 2018 when everything seems to be saying, “Stop!”

Remember Who You Are

Paul reminds you in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that regardless of your feelings, if you are in Christ you are a new creature. And Romans 8:1 goes on to encourage us that, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

One of the Devil’s missions is to distract you from recognizing who you are in Jesus Christ. He wants you to focus on what you do, rather than who you are in Christ. Obedience is critical to your Christian growth, but it must be done the right way and for the right reasons. If not, the Devil will have you on a depressing treadmill. You will be working for something you either already have or that God offers for free.

These are some things the Bible says I am right now in Jesus Christ:

  • I am complete- Colossians 2:10
  • I am forgiven- I John 2:12
  • I am redeemed – Revelation 5:9
  • I am chosen – Colossians 3:12
  • I am justified – Romans 5:1
  • I am a joint heir with Christ – Romans 8:17

As we move through 2018 we have to remember that we are who God says we are. At times our feelings and even our “friends” might say something different, but don’t be fooled. Galatians 3:1 puts it in even stronger terms. Don’t be bewitched!

Get Out Of Your Way!

Romans 13:14 counsels us to stop, “making provisions for the flesh.” Stop feeding your bad habits. Stop tripping yourself up. Stop blaming the Devil for doing what you’re doing to yourself! The person who is sabotaging your spiritual success may very well be that man in the mirror.

Here’s how it works. It’s clear that certain foods, sounds, smells, people, places, or things, consistently cause you to stumble.  Rather than pleading with God to resist the temptation, why not put as much distance between you and the temptation as possible. Get it out of the house. Get it out of the refrigerator.  Get it out of your laptop. Get them out of your life. Because as long as they are available the temptation will be strong.

Ellen White gives great counsel here.” It is an important law of the mind…. when a desired object is so firmly denied as to remove all hope, the mind will soon cease to long for it, and will be occupied with other pursuits. But as long as there is any hope of gaining the desired object, an effort will be made to obtain it!”

Mind, Character and Personality Vol. 2 pg.419

There it is! If you can get to it, you will. So, take the temptation out before it takes you out.

Have Faith In God

The late Andre Crouch used to sing, “I’ve Got Confidence. God is going to see me through. No matter what the case may be. I know He’s going to fix it for me.” That’s faith. We have to believe that God will do what he promised He’ll do. 2018 will have ups and downs but God is a constant. Philippians 1:6 is true, “..he who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it.”  Believe that.

Let’s close with my favorite quote this month and please let me know what you want God to do for you in 2018. How can we pray for you?

“God is disappointed when His people place a low estimate on themselves…They may expect large things if they have faith in His promises.” Desire of Ages 657