january 2011


Gospel News & Notes

*Pop Staples Honored With Mississippi Blues Trail Marker
*Sonya Isaacs Is Having a Baby
*Crossing Over: The Consolers’ Sullivan Pugh, 85
*A Gospel Music Shrine Grows In Birmingham
*David Mann Joins Statement of Faith
*Crossing Over: Billy Grable, The Stamps, 82

staples marker

Pops Staples Honored with Mississippi Blues Trail Marker

By Monica Land

Since the early 1950s, Pops Staples and The Staple Singers, have been recognized worldwide for their soul-stirring lyrics and their countless contributions to the music industry. They've won numerous awards and accolades and in 1999, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And, recently, in a modest and simple ceremony in Winona, Miss., Pops Staples, the patriarch of the gospel and later, R&B group, was honored by his hometown with the 120th marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail.

In Pops' honor, the blues marker ceremony was held on Dec. 16, at the Montgomery County Courthouse, in Winona, with several public and city officials speaking. The unveiling of the marker took place outside on the courthouse grounds with representatives from Montgomery County, the Mississippi Development Authority and the public, showing their support despite the cold and rainy weather.

Sue Stidham, director of the Economic Development Partnership, in Winona, chaired the program and recognized Senator Lydia Chassaniol (R-Miss.), who spearheaded the campaign for the marker, as well as Jim Lyles, of Entergy, and David Putnam, of Winona, for their financial contributions toward the blues marker.

During the ceremony, Chassaniol, who heads tourism for the state, spoke fondly of meeting Pops Staples at the governor's mansion, in Jackson, in 1999. Chassaniol said Staples was "a delightful gentleman," and it was honor to recognize someone from her community.

"I didn't realize Pops Staples was a Winona native until I got to meet him in 1999," she said. "And later that afternoon, Marty Stuart, another Mississippi notable, was also receiving an award and after the ceremony, both of these musical icons, Marty and Pops Staples, got up and gave an impromptu concert for the people in the audience. And I thought, 'Where else but in Mississippi could you have two fabulous talents like [them] get up and do that?' I get goose bumps just thinking about it today. And, I'm so grateful that we're able to recognize and honor the life and talent of Pops Staples here in Winona."

Pops Staples, ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine,’ performed on David Sanborn’s Night Music.

Alex Thomas, program manager for the State of Mississippi, Mississippi Development Authority, agreed.

"We recognized Pops in 1999, at the governor's awards," Thomas said. "But, I think for a long time, the state has not really embraced these artists that have come from places like Montgomery County, Tunica County, and DeSoto County. All of these places have gotten quite a bit of recognition for many things, but for the artists that have come out of their own back yard and that have gone out and made great names for themselves, we have not given them the homage and honor they deserve and Pops Staples is one of those guys."

Roebuck "Pops" Staples, was born on a farm near Winona on Dec. 28, 1914. He and his brother, Sears, were named after the Chicago-based mail order company that numbered many rural Mississippians, black and white, among its customers.

Staples and his 13 older siblings were raised around the Mayfield and Kilmichael communities in Montgomery County before the family moved to the Dr. Joseph David Swinney plantation west of Minter City then to the Dockery plantation near Drew. His children Cleotha and Pervis were born at Dockery, followed by Yvonne, Mavis, and Cynthia after the family moved to Chicago around 1936.

The Staples Singers, ‘Reach Out, Touch a Hand, Make a Friend,’ Montreux Jazz Festival 1981

Pops Staples professed not to be a blues singer, but he did collaborate on recordings with blues artists, and won a Grammy in the Contemporary Blues category for his final CD, Father Father. Staples died in Dolton, Ill., at the age of 85, on Dec. 19, 2000.

"I can remember waking up on Saturday mornings and listening to all the music my father played and my grandmother played," Thomas said. "And, I always thought these people were from Chicago, Memphis or other big cities. But, when you find out they were born right down the street or they were born a few miles away, that makes you even prouder and it makes you respect the work that they've done.

"Pops Staples was a genius," Thomas continued. "All the songs from The Staple Singers are still being played... in commercials and movies and I look at people like them as early pioneers that have laid the foundation for so many artists that are coming along today. So, it's very important that we continue to celebrate the legacy of folks like Pops Staples."

Thomas said Mavis Staples was touring the country and was unable to attend the ceremony.

The Mississippi Blues Trail is an ongoing project of the Mississippi Blues Commission and the first marker was unveiled in Holly Ridge on Dec. 11, 2006, in honor of Charley Patton, at his gravesite.

(Excerpted from Monica Land's story in Frost Illustrated. Her complete report on the Pops Staples Trail Marker ceremony is at http://www.frostillustrated.com/full.php?sid=8171)


Sonya Isaacs Is Having A Baby

The Isaacs' award winning female vocalist and mandolin player Sonya Isaacs and her songwriter husband, Jimmy Yeary, are anticipating the birth of their first baby in July 2011.

The Sonya Isaacs-Jimmy Yeary wedding video

Isaacs, who has established herself as one of the finest vocalist in both the bluegrass and gospel worlds, is, to put it mildly, over the top about the impending birth. "One of my greatest desires in life has been to be a mommy,” she says. “I've loved being an aunt, and being so close to my nieces and nephews has given me a taste of what it's like to love and raise a child. We are so excited and can't even begin to express our thankfulness to the Lord for this great big little blessing! Thanks for your continued prayers as we continue on this amazing journey."

Sonya Isaacs offers a jazzy treatment of ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’

Says expectant father Yeary (who co-wrote the country chart topping Rascal Flatts hit, “Why Wait”): "It's hard to put into words how excited I am at the thought of having a child with the love of my life. It just doesn't get any better."

Isaacs and Yeary were married December 20, 2009 in Nashville.


The Consolers: Iola and Sullivan Pugh

Crossing Over: The Consolers’ Sullivan Pugh, 85

Sullivan Pugh, the guitar playing half of the husband and wife gospel duo, The Consolers, died December 30, 2010 at his home in Miami at the age of 85. During the 1950s and ‘60s, Sullivan and his wife, Iola, as The Consolers, reached their height of popularity with songs such as "Give Me My Flowers,” "Waiting for My Child,” “Somewhere Around God’s Throne” and "May the Work I've Done Speak for Me." Their career as a duo stretched from 1953 until Iola's death in 1994. During their career, The Consolers recorded for the Glory and DeLuxe record labels, Nashboro Records, Savoy/Malaco Records and appeared at the 1972 Newport Jazz Festival. In 2002, Sullivan and Iola (posthumously) were awarded with the Florida Folk Heritage Award. Sullivan continued to sing into his later years, even making an appearance on Malaco's Gospel Legends DVD in 2004. Sullivan was also actively involved in The Consolers Progressive Charity Club, an organization that benefited the needy.

The Consolers (Sullivan and Iola Pugh), 'May the Work I've Done Speak For Me' (1969)


A Gospel Music Shrine Grows In Birmingham

(reported by Joseph D. Bryant, January 3, 2011, in The Birmingham News and posted at al.com)

Pigeons fly in and out of a nest from a hole high above the choir stand in the sanctuary.

gospel centerThe nearly 90-year-old building remains quiet apart from the echoed sounds of birds rustling deep within the walls, but the disrepair and signs of age seem invisible to Creig Hoskins and Constance Moore as they walk through the former McCoy United Methodist Church with flashlights, pointing to the stained glass, wood floors and wood-beamed, gabled ceilings.

"It's a beautiful building. It was very well constructed and solid," Moore says of the old church on Eighth Avenue West, near Birmingham-Southern College. "You can see the beauty of these spaces."

Both become excited when describing what they hope will be the building's rebirth as a gospel music center, studio and museum.

Their plan to turn the city-owned property into the Alabama Gospel Music Cultural Arts Center received a boost recently when the City Council approved spending $35,000 to buy additional property nearby to aid in redevelopment.

The nonprofit center's board recently approved a five-year design plan to transform the former church. The first phase of the multimillion-dollar project includes a performance auditorium in the sanctuary, a visitor lobby and exhibit space.

gospel centerThe church's former education center is still in use as the McCoy Center for Community Service, where space is leased to social service agencies and an adult day-care center. The United Methodist Church sold the property to the city for $350,000 after the congregation disbanded in 1993. The McCoy Center group has a long-term lease and manages the property's use by other groups.

Now, preservationists and music enthusiasts are ready for a revival.

Supporters say the project would restore faded property in a challenged part of town between Birmingham-Southern and Legion Field.

"The idea is to make the building alive at night as well as in the daytime," said Moore, a member of the McCoy Center's board of directors and a founder of the music center. "It's something for the community as well as visitors."

This side of the church has been vacant for 15 years. The city took steps to stabilize the exterior in 2002, including securing the roof and stopping further water damage. Mounds of drywall sit in corners throughout the old church.

"The good thing is that everything that has fallen down right now is cosmetic," said Hoskins, lead architect in the project. "The intent is to keep all the character of the existing building."

Hoskins envisions the creation of a new visitors center by adding a glass wall on the front of the building. Even with the additions, the original architecture and interior will remain preserved, he said.

"Everything that you see in here stays," Hoskins said, walking through the hull of the sanctuary, admiring its wooden pews. "We're just going to add the components that we need to add in order to make it the exhibit space that it needs to be."

Moore, who works at Birmingham-Southern, remembers going to McCoy as a student at the nearby college for Christmas services and other functions. And Birmingham-Southern, a United Methodist school, remains interested and supportive of the latest activity at the church, she said.

With the plan completed, the next step is fundraising. The group received a $40,000 grant from the Alabama Council on the Arts and matching grants totaling $40,000 from the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, the Daniel Foundation, the Hill Crest Foundation, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church and the Bush Hills Neighborhood Association.

The center will highlight gospel music past and present, and particularly the role of local and Alabama artists in creating and cultivating the art form.

"The idea here is we're using everything Alabama," Hoskins said. "Once you become familiar with it and you start appreciating it for what it is and what all came after it, then you realize that this is something great. I see a bright future for the project. This is something that was thought out, that has a lot of potential and is going to be great for the city."

Even with a seven-figure price tag, Moore said she's certain the concept will become a reality. Both she and Hoskins compared the center's potential cultural and tourism impact to that of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute downtown, a major city attraction.

"We have to search out those grants and foundations that are supportive of our mission," she said. "I believe this could happen. It is something that is lacking."

The area's gospel music, Moore said, "is not documented; it's not researched, and sometimes it's not validated ... We don't put it in its rightful place."

Mayor William Bell echoed other supporters, calling the project both cultural and economic. Bell said the more the city has to offer both residents and tourists, the more investment will spread from downtown throughout the entire city. Bell said the city is using its past to build on its future.

"It will absolutely be comparable with the things that the Civil Rights Institute has done for that corridor in downtown for this area of town," he said. "It's one of my goals to develop facilities and attractions throughout the city of Birmingham."


David Mann Joins Statement of Faith

faithWith Joe Epley leaving its fold to join The Inspirations, Statement of Faith is adding David Mann, formerly of the Blackwood Gospel Quartet, as its new baritone singer. Michael Helwig, most recently with the Homesteaders/Williamsons, will replace Mann in the Blackwood lineup.

Mann is Jacob and Joe Kitson's brother-in-law, and brings to the group not only a new level of talent and experience, but also an already familiar blend.

"Singing with Dave is nothing new to Joe and I," says Jacob. "This is an easy transition that is nearly seven years in the making." The trio has been singing together, off and on, since the summer of 2004.

"I'm thrilled to be a part of Statement of Faith," says Mann. "Singing together with Jacob and Joe is actually seeing past dreams coming to fruition. It's been amazing watching how God has simply brought the pieces together and allowed this happen."


billy grable

Crossing Over: Billy Grable, The Stamps, 82

The Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, TX, has reported the death of gospel stalwart Billy G. Grable on December 30, 2010.

Grable was born April 26, 1928, in Guy, Arkansas to William Orbra Grable and Amanda Arvada Hendrickson. He began playing piano professionally with the Stamps-Baxter Dixie Quartet at the age of 16 and worked with Frank Stamps and his quartets playing piano for the live radio broadcast from KRLD every day. At 6:15 a.m., 12 noon, and at 10:35 p.m. on Sunday nights those radio programs had a vast listening audience all across the country.

Then, in the early 1950s Billy was asked to join the Friendly Four Quartet in Fort Worth where they performed on KFJZ radio. The group also sang for a weekly television program on the first TV station in Texas: Channel 5 WBAP. When W. B. Nowlin began his gospel concert series, the Battle of Songs at Will Rogers Auditorum in Fort Worth in 1956, the Friendly Four were among the first local groups to sing on the program. They were also known as one of the first groups to create popular quartet arrangements of familiar hymns such as "Hide Me Rock Of Ages."

After playing piano for the Travis Senior Quartet for over five years, Grable continued his passion for gospel music as promoter of the "Travis Avenue Gospel Concerts" at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

Grable was inducted to the Southern Gospel Music Associations Hall of Fame and the Texas Music Hall of Fame.

He married Juanita Neal and had two children, Bill and Karen. He spent most of his life in Fort Worth, providing for his family with insurance and real estate sales. After Juanita's death, he married a longtime family friend, Ahvie Hearne. His wife survives him as do a stepson, Scotty Hearne; a son, Bill Grable; a daughter, Karen Marchman; grandchildren Tiffany Anderson, Amy Longmore, William Shane Grable and Jonathan Grable; four great-grandchildren; brothers, Bob Grable and Faber Grable; sisters Wadene Sweeney, Anna Lee Helmich and Jeanette Zuber; and many nieces and nephews.

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