As the Michigan Chronicle focuses on its triumphant and at times turbulent 75 years, we have been taking a look at some of the history of the city itself within that time frame. Among many other things, Detroit is known for its soul-stirring gospel music. — Editors
When the subject matter is Detroit music, what comes to mind first for nearly all people — worldwide — is Motown.
That is understandable considering the fact that the company Berry Gordy Jr. founded in 1959 is now woven into the very fabric of the city. In fact, the city of Detroit is often referred to as “Motown.”
The roster of Motown Record Corporation is awesome and still unparalleled, including the Supremes, Diana Ross, the Miracles, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Martha & the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, the Marvelettes and many more.
But Detroit also received, and continues to receive, well-deserved recognition for its output of rock music, jazz…and gospel. Everyone from Aretha Franklin to the Winans, Vanessa Bell Armstrong to Esther Smith, Thomas Whitfield to the Resurrection.
THE CLARK SISTERS — Elbernita (Twinkie), Dorinda, Jacky, Karen and, earlier, Denise — have reigned as the No. 1 female group in gospel for decades, with a long string of hit songs to their credit including “Is My Living In Vain?,” “Jesus Is a Love Song” “Miracle” and their signature song, the jubilant, reggae flavored “You Brought the Sunshine.”
The sisters, whose latest album is “Live: One Last Time,” are the daughters of famed choir director, songwriter and singer Mattie Moss Clark, the nieces of Bill Moss of Bill Moss & the Celestials (“Everything Is Going To Be Alright”) and the cousins of contemporary gospel star J Moss.
In addition to the group’s accomplishments, the Clark Sisters have enjoyed significant individual success. And Karen’s daughter, Kierra “KiKi” Sheard, is now a star in her own right.
THE WINANS are the first family of gospel music, a position previously held by the Hawkins family (Edwin, Tramaine, Walter, Lynette). Some go so far as to identify the Winans as royalty.
The original Winans quartet — Marvin, Ronald, Michael and Carvin — had an extraordinary number of hits, including “The Question Is,” “Uphold Me,” “Ain’t No Need to Worry” (with Anita Baker), “Restoration,” “Bring Back the Days of Yea and Nay,” “Let My People Go” and “It’s Time.”
BeBe and CeCe Winans, brother and sister, had many hits as a duo (“Addictive Love,” “Lost Without You,” etc.) and continue to enjoy successful solo careers.
Mom and Pop Winans, matriarch and patriarch, were popular attractions, as were the sons of the original quartet, Winans Phase 2, and Daniel Winans.
Vickie Winans, former wife of Marvin Winans, is one of the foremost ladies in gospel music, also one of the most glamorous. She has had one successful album after another and is, in a way, a one-woman industry.
Her brother, guitarist Tim Bowman, has made a name for himself as a jazz gospel jazz artist.
DELLA REESE, renowned actress, talk show host, singer and more, started out in gospel music as a member of the Meditation Singers, co-founded by Reese and Earnestine Rundless. The group was popular in the 1950s.
Interestingly, Rundless’ daughter, Laura Lee, a latter-day member of the Meditation Singers, became famous in the 1960s and 1970s as an R&B singer, enjoying a string of national Top 10 and Top 20 hits. She has since returned to gospel.
FRED HAMMOND, singer, guitarist and producer, is one of the most successful artists in gospel and has been for many years. He has been honored frequently for his accomplishments, including Grammy, Stellar and Dove awards.
Hammond got his start as a member of another of Detroit and the gospel industry’s most popular attractions, Commissioned, who had a number of successful albums in the 1980s.
After Commissioned, Hammond formed Radical For Christ. His popular albums include “The Spirit of David,” “Pages of Life: Chapters 1 & 2,” “Purpose By Design” and “Love Unstoppable.”
VANESSA BELL ARMSTRONG has retained a solid fan base since the release of her first album in 1983, “Peace Be Still.” Her follow-up album, “Chosen,” was also a major success.
One of her popular songs, “Something Inside So Strong,” from 1988, that alluded to the fight against apartheid, was remade in 1995 as a tribute to Rosa Parks. For that project she was joined by Shirley Caesar, Tramaine Hawkins, Yolanda Adams and Fred Hammond.
Armstrong also appeared on Broadway in “Don’t Get God Started,” was seen in the TV special “The Women of Brewster Place” and sang the theme song for the popular TV series “Amen” starring Sherman Hemsley and Clifton Davis.
Among the many other gospel artists from Detroit are Byron Cage, Michael Fletcher, Rudolph Stanfield Jr., David Gough, Wanda Nero Butler, Donald Vails, Mike Jemison, Tessie Hill, James Moore, Deitrick Haddon, Evelyn Turrentine-Agee, Orlando Wright, Michael Brooks, Lisa Page Brooks and Cedric Dent. — Steve Holsey contributed to this story.