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James Cleveland, ’King of Gospel,” Dies at Age 59

February 10, 1991 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The Rev. James Cleveland, revered by the music world as the ″king of gospel″ who taught a 9-year-old Aretha Franklin to sing gospel and inspired countless other artists, died Saturday. He was 59.

The three-time Grammy winner was hospitalized Thursday at Brotman Medical Center with respiratory problems and died of heart failure, said his manager, Annette Thomas.

Cleveland, a pianist, singer, composer, arranger and producer, was widely regarded as the world’s foremost gospel musician.

He also was a Baptist minister and founding pastor of the Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

The baritone, who often described his voice as a fog horn, has been credited with writing and arranging more than 400 gospel songs, including ″Everything Will Be All Right,″ ″The Love of God″ and ″Peace Be Still.″

Sixteen of his albums went gold. Cleveland is the first gospel artist to receive a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Cleveland had worked with Miss Franklin, Quincy Jones and Edwin Hawkins.

″We’ve all been influenced by him,″ Hawkins said recently. ″I grew up with his music. ... We all bought his records as children. That’s how we learned to sing gospel music.″

In an interview last year with the Los Angeles Times, Cleveland said he got started in the music industry by watching Mahalia Jackson and others perform.

″I’d stand around by the door and hope somebody’s musician didn’t show up. Then I’d offer to play for them,″ he said.

″They’d ask me ‘Boy, can you play such-and-such?’ And I’d always say I could even if I never heard of it before in my life,″ Cleveland said. ″Then they’d say ‘All right. I need it in E-Flat,’ and I’d go right out there and start playing.″

Cleveland was born Dec. 5, 1931, and grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Later, he moved into the home of the Rev. C.L. Franklin, father of soul legend Miss Franklin. He taught the 9-year-old Aretha how to sing gospel.

He later produced her Grammy-winning gospel album, ″Amazing Grace.″

Cleveland was nominated this year for a Grammy for ″Having Church″ in the best gospel album by a choir or chorus category. He won Grammys for ″In the Ghetto″ in 1974, ″James Cleveland Live at Carnegie Hall″ in 1977 and ″Lord, Let Me Be an Instrument″ in 1980.


He regarded the Gospel Music Workshop of America in Detroit as his greatest accomplishment. He founded the workshop in 1968 as a small group of musicians and vocalists. It grew to 200 chapters with 20,000 members nationwide.

In the last two years, Cleveland suffered various health problems.

He could not perform at a tribute concert to him at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in October because of a tracheotomy. Earlier in 1990, he was rushed to a hospital in Washington, D.C., with severe respiratory problems.

He is survived by a daughter, LaShone, three sisters and a brother.

A funeral was scheduled for Feb. 16 at Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church.