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Rev. James Cleveland

The visionary behind the contemporary gospel sound, the Rev. James Cleveland, was a pioneering composer and choral director whose progressive arrangements -- jazzy and soulful, complete with odd time signatures -- helped push the music past the confines of the traditional Baptist hymnal into new and unexpected directions, infusing elements of the sanctified church style and secular pop to alter the face of gospel forever. Born in Chicago on December 5, 1932, Cleveland was a boy soprano at Pilgrim Baptist Church, the home of minister of music Thomas A. Dorsey; as his parents were unable to afford a piano, he crafted a makeshift keyboard out of a windowsill, somehow learning to play without ever producing an actual note. When his voice changed, becoming gruff and harsh, Cleveland continued singing, developing into an expressive crooner; for the most part, however, he focused on piano, becoming a top-notch accompanist.

In 1950, Cleveland signed on as a pianist and occasional third lead with the Gospelaires, a trio led by Norsalus McKissick and Bessie Folk; although the group was short-lived, it brought him to the attention of pianist Roberta Martin, for whom he began composing. Even his earliest material reflects a bluesy, funkified style well ahead of its time, while his arrangements of traditional spirituals like "Old Time Religion" and "It's Me O Lord" were highly stylized, almost unrecognizable from their usual interpretations. By the mid-'50s, Cleveland was a member of the Caravans, not only playing piano but also narrating hymns in his rough yet relaxing voice; despite the group's success, however, he kept quitting and rejoining their ranks, earning a reputation as a highly temperamental character. He also played briefly with groups including the Meditation Singers and the Gospel All-Stars; in 1959, he also cut a rendition of Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Love Her So," his first overt attempt to bridge gospel and R&B.

Although Cleveland kept drifting from group to group, his reputation continued to grow -- with the Gospel Chimes, he cut a series of records which veered sharply from pop-inflected ballads to fiery shouters, arranging harmonies which straddled the line between the current group style and the rapidly developing choir sound. By 1960, he was clearly well ahead of the pack; "The Love of God," a cover of a Soul Stirrers number he cut with the Detroit choir the Voices of Tabernacle, was a breakthrough hit, his fusion of pop balladry and choir spirit finally reaching its apotheosis. After years of struggle, Cleveland was now a major star, and across the country, choir directors began mimicking his style; he soon signed to Savoy, where he recorded with the All-Stars and Chimes as well as his own group, the Cleveland Singers, which featured on organ a young Billy Preston. His third Savoy LP, 1962's live Peace Be Still, made history, selling an astonishing 800,000 copies to an almost exclusively black audience without the benefit of mainstream promotion.

The success of Peace Be Still established Cleveland as arguably the most crucial figure to emerge in gospel since Mahalia Jackson; throughout the '60s, when hit status for spiritual records typically reflected sales of five thousand copies, his LPs regularly sold five times that amount. Additionally, his annual Gospel Singers Workshop Convention -- an outgrowth of his organization the Gospel Workshop of America -- helped launch the careers of numerous younger talents, a generation of artists largely inspired by the modernized sound pioneered by Cleveland himself. During the '70s, he remained a towering figure, leading his latest creation, the Southern California Community Choir, and recording prolifically; although his pace began to slow in the decade that followed -- and despite his death on February 9, 1991 -- Cleveland's shadow continues to loom large across the gospel landscape. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

1 of my favorites gospel singers in the river James Cleveland I can listen to him from now until the day I die Thank God for someone like him who could really sing the gospel
There is something about walking with Jesus TRUE INDEED!!! The peace that surpasses all understandin g ! ! Thank you Jesus for NEVER leaving me ALTHOUGH many many times I have gone astray. The road hasn't been easy, but I know one thing for sure you haven't allowed me to come this far to leave me. I have a calling on my life Lord and I will not stop until I fulfill what you have called me to do. Lord, I will follow you all the days of my life REGARDLESS of the struggles and pitfalls I have a race t
deadseefossi l e s
A Prophet of God, yet A PEDOPHILE of SATAN.
Praise God!
Thank you lord
My sister died almost 6months ago and before and during her battle with cancer she constantly praised GOD. REV. James Cleveland helped her get through some painful days but she kept her faith in GOD and though losing a loved one never gets easy it helps to ease the pain knowing that she loved/believ e d in the ALMIGHTY
GET CLOSER TO GOD RIGHT NOW......
If you know real gospel music this is a true Icon at 37 years old I truly appreciates the foundation he laid
Rev. James Cleve?land, I can remember as a child my mom and dad listening & loving the REV. Gospel Music (l am now 62 yrs old, & I
Thank you
Man of GOD is gone but his music is forever
A true man of God
Only God can change things around for the better
Praise the Lord Peace Be Still in Jesus Name Amen
peggydavis20
Beautiful
Alice D. so encouraging and uplifting. Truly inspiring.
I don't usually listen to music at work. I want to praise the Lord always.
I'm not working. More bills then money. I still have my faith in God!
I played this song as my Mom took her last breath 4 months ago....she is done with the troubles of this world. She has gone home to live with God.
leonard82336
i enjoy listen to pandora radio the singn are soul reviving( leonard)
GOSPEL with a MESSAGE PRAYER SINGING AND TEACHING
As you go into your. SECRET CLOSET.

Search. Meditate. Recreate.

The appreciation .

The designation.

Mine faithfulness .

Deserving Gratefulness
All I need is mustard seed faith.Ain't God good!!!
jjacobs1543
Love this song one of my favorites
His music still live on. He was my brother Gerard Drayton best friend & mentor. I thank him for the friendship & love he gave to my late brother. His music gives me a feeling no other artists has given me. That old time religion.
The late great Rev James Cleveland has contributed greatly to gospel music his legacy lives will live on and on
Rev. J. Cleveland will live on in his great music--- E. Clark 2012
Yes this too shall pass!! Thank you Jesus. I love this song and all of Rev. Cleveland music. It's a blessing to me!!!
Yes Lord !! Cry out to God
Yes Lord!!!
vanessa.brow n 0
Love him and the similar artists I grew up listening to all of them brings back good feelings.
They don't make em like this no more...
I grew up singing his songs. Peace Be Still is a favorite.
nobody like james
His music still stirs the soul,lifts it up.
Great music now this is church music
The song speak to the world today. We need more song like this.
marvab5775
He is foremost MY best gospel singer. I can here his Voice over and over again. Peace be Still....... .
This is a song that is needed for today someone need to remake this song
adr74380
yualanda darby I'M am the the Mother of this commentary. Always remember to trust GOD young Lady gemini310mer @ y a h o o . c o m He alone is you strength only trust him. My sons bday is tomorrow AMEN
i had emergency surgery and i was scared but it was a student told me its going to be alright only if i believe in god she said the psalm 23 with me .when they put me too sleep i seen my grand mother she is deceased already.i was happy when i seen her she said to me dont follow me yolanda god aint ready for you to come home yet.he got more work for you too do.an she told me my son girlfriend is having a girl.and she did have a girl.his girl friend said i never told you what i was having
Peace be still
lakishaa85
Now this is church music!!
Can't nobody do me like Jesus.....No b o d y ! ! ! " Nobody!!!""
stoubre5
Now this is church music!!
tanika.brown 0
My fav is Jesus is the best thing and this too will pass
Jesus is the best thing that ever happen to me
321762037
A legend Peace Be Still is a favorite of mine.
dariusvann
The music is the roots to the begining of my walk with God, even when I explored the world outside of the church realm his music is what would connect me with the love of God. Now that my natural physical father has passed on to glory, Rev James Clevland's music keeps me grounded from where I came from. His music has impacted my life, all the way in Hawaii,.
Even though Rev.James Clevensland is with JESUS his music is bdard around the world. The good old days.
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