Gospel Music in Ouachita Parish

Local Church Groups Rejected Gospel Music As Too Worldly!

In the early 1940’s a new brand of religious music spread across the nation among African-Americans. It was called “Gospel Singing.”
It was controversial not only because it was new but because it had a sound that was familiar to the music of night clubs and honkey tonks. It sounded bluesy. Many church groups banned gospel music. The instruments associated with gospel music were also frowned upon including: guitars, drums, trumpets and saxophones. While the wave of new music was sweeping the country there was also a large number of groups that were performing in the Monroe area.

By 1963 there were more than a dozen gospel singing groups in the Monroe Community. Some, like the famous Jordan Singers, produced records and traveled around the country. Many of the local Gospel singers formed an organization known as the Twin City Singers Convention after a 1961 meeting at a barber shop owned by Robert Henry and his wife Dorothy.

The Reverend Jessie George was elected “Pastor” of the group, ministering to them spiritually as they sang to others. Robert Henry was the groups first president. The group provided assistance to infirmed gospel singers. The organization paid $5.00 to members who were ill and gave $10 to members who were confined to hospitals for three days or more. Among its other officers in 1963 were: David Edward, vice-president; Wesley Allen, general manager; Robert Johnson, assistant Manager; Leon Robinson, General Chaplain; Brother Scott, assistant Chaplain; Sister Heckard, advisor; Beulah McCoy, chief usher; Ruby Scott, Financial Secretary; Betty Jenkins, recording Secretary; L.J. Jackson, head of the finance committee; Floyd Simmons, head of the time and place committee; and Brother Mack Allen, Treasurer. Some of the gospel groups in the Monroe area were: The Mighty Gospelaires, formed 1943, Wesley Allen Manager; The Gospel Wings, 1944, Robert Johnson, manager;The Five Kings, 1950, L.J. Jackson, manager;

The Royal Newtown Spirituals, 1957; The Jordan Singers, 1961, H.P. Gipson, manager; The Monroe All Stars, 1961, Isaac Jenkins, manager; The Voice of Praise, 1961; The Pilgrim Jubilee, 1962, Tim Moore, manager; Two locally famous gospel radio personalities included: Mrs. Lorine Wade, a member of the Lone Wa Baptist Church who broadcast on KUZN in 1960’s and L.J. Jackson who also broadcast on KUZN and Rev. Means on KXLA in Rayville. Later Gospel DJ’s included: Derrick Nation and Sherrie Estes at KXLA, Reverend Charles Thomas, KXLA. The most famous of the Gospel DJ’s since the 1980’s is Mrs. Pearlee Toliver of K-98. Mrs. Toliver’s Gospel show is one of the most listened to gospel programs in the area. She was featured in newspaper articles and in television commercials. In the 1970’s other groups began to form as the style of Gospel music began to change again, reflecting the influence of the Reverend James Cleveland nationally. While the new changes de-emphasized guitars and the “jubilee” sound, it was never-the-less still viewed as controversial by the established church community.

The refusal of many church groups to acknowledge the new sound did not stop its growth. It appeared that the more it was opposed faster it grew. Newer groups began to form besides those that already existed. Included among the new groups formed from 1970 to 1994 were: H.P. Gipson’s “Canaan Singers”, that still performs today, was popular act of the late 70’s. Other groups that performed minus the guitars but with the new jazz chorded sounds of the 70’s and 80’s included: Donald Burge’s “Monroe Mass” Choir, Ellis Carter and Company, The Herman Finley Singers, Debra James’ “Chosen,” Roosevelt Wright, III’s “Prodigy”, Julius Taylor and “Direction”, Zelia Logan and The Revelations, The Singing Logan Family, The Griffin Sisters, Elbert Johnson’s “Togetherness” Choir which still sings today, along with Patrick Winfield’s “Rapture” and several of the pioneer quartets. In 1984 The Reverend James Cleveland came to Monroe for a singing- meeting at the Tabernacle Baptist Church.

He organized a local chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America. Leatrice Morrison was named the chapter representative and she continues to serve today. As it was at its beginning Gospel music remains a controversial style of music in the African-American church. It is rejected by conservatives and embraced by others who see it as being consistent with the scriptures that say “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”