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James Cleveland

James Cleveland

American gospel singer, musician, and composer

James Edward Cleveland (December 5, 1931 – February 9, 1991) was an American gospel singer, musician, and composer. Known as the King of Gospel, Cleveland was a driving force behind the creation of the modern gospel sound by incorporating traditional black gospel, soul, pop, and jazz in arrangements for mass choirs. Throughout his career, Cleveland appeared on hundreds of recordings and earned four Grammy Awards. He was the first gospel musician to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1984. For his trailblazing accomplishments, he is regarded by many as one of the greatest gospel singers who ever lived. He is best known for his gospel classics "Lord, Help Me to Hold Out", "Peace Be Still", "I Don't Feel No Ways Tired", “Where Is Your Faith", "The Love of God", "God Has Smiled on Me", and his rendition of Gladys Knight & The Pips' "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me."

Early life and career

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Cleveland began singing as a boy soprano at Pilgrim Baptist Church, where Thomas A. Dorsey was minister of music and Roberta Martin was pianist for the choir. He strained his vocal cords as a teenager while part of a local gospel group, creating the distinctive, gravelly voice that became his hallmark in his later years. As a young teen, Cleveland was a part of a missionary group, Soul Winners for Christ, which was created by his teenage friend Jessie Jimerson Phillips, who would go on in later years to write Roberta Martin's last recorded song, "I Have Hope". Soul Winners for Christ also included young Richard D. Henton and was headquartered at Chicago's Greater Harvest Baptist Church, where Louis H. Boddie was pastor. The change in his voice led Cleveland to focus on his skills as a pianist, and later, as a composer and arranger.

Musical career

The Gospelaires

In 1950, Cleveland joined the Gospelaires, a trio led by Norsalus McKissick and Bessie Folk. His arrangements modernized such traditional standards as "(Give Me That) Old Time Religion" and "It's Me, O Lord". After the trio disbanded, an associate of the group, Roberta Martin, hired him as a composer and arranger. The song that brought Cleveland tremendous fame was his rendition of "Peace Be Still."


December 5, 1931
James Cleveland was born in Chicago.


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