Following the thread of the great gospel soloist, announcers, quartets, choirs, groups, producers, songwriters, photographers, choir directors, ministry leaders, poets, speakers, and artist from Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Youngstown and the surrounding areas; we find our foundation; why we sing and why we're so brilliant at it.
1n 1928 the famous Dunham Jubilee Singers of Mobile Alabama relocated to Cleveland, Ohio to fulfill a two-year contract with Penn Central Railroads to sing at company functions and public relations events. The group consisted of Leon Patrick, Ben Ransaw, Rufus Beavers and our own Arthur Lee Turner. The following summer Columbia Records brought the Dunham Jubilee Singers to New York City to record. When the group left Cleveland Arthur Turner chose to remain, he found full time work as a pipe fitter.
Arthur Tuner eventually joined the Shield Brothers, helping to make them one of Cleveland’s premiere groups. In 1938 Mr. Turner began training the Elite Jewels, and in 1943 he became their business manager; under his leadership the Elite Jewels attained great recognition throughout the United States. Beginning in 1948, Turner became a radio personality who broadcasted on WABQ and WJMO radio stations. He was also one of the founding members of the Ohio Singers Movement and the Gospel Music Workshop of America (Cleveland Chapter).
Mr. Turner a respected Gospel music promoter knew how to attract crowds. He plastered outdoor posters, indoor posters, handed out flyers, even distributed flyers on windows of parked cars at concerts. He promoted the nation’s best and hottest gospel stars in Cleveland’s largest auditoriums and most prestigious churches. He didn’t scream or yell, he calmly walked to the mic at programs and made his announcements; you were on the edge of your seat! You knew it was going to be a quality concert, Mr. Arthur Turner’s name was on it.
Denver Wilborn, known as the Radio Man, started on WABQ when it was an R&B station when religious music was only played on Sunday Mornings when the station was purchased by new owners he convinced them to turn the station into a full time religious station with Gospel Music heard sun up to sun down. Denver became the General Operations Manager and sign on announcer with the program title “The Gospel Train”. He had worked for that company in one role or another for over 40 years.
Denver did a lot of work in the community. He had the first “Shut-In” service, bringing people from nursing homes with the help of doctors, nurses and churches, to an afternoon religious service at the Agora Theater. Raising money to feed the hungry, he raised money for Aid for Ethiopia.
With 10 choirs of the city, he hosted the largest religious musical downtown at the Convention Center, “Come On Children Let’s Sing.” He served as host taking 125 people to the Holy Land as well as managed a singing group called the “Angels of Harmony.” He wrote several of their songs, one of them, “Look The People Over,” was recorded by one of the local groups. He hosted “Golden Gates of Gospel” television program which was also co-hosted by his wife, Lillian Hortense.
Denver encouraged people to go back to school. It made him very happy when people would come by the station and show him their GED and some went on to get their degrees. He also attended in school. He earned both a broker’s license in real estate and a certification as a travel agent. He opened Wilborn Travel and Tours. Denver has received several awards from Civic, Community and Religious Organizations, as well as Proclamations from the City and State. Inducted into the Broadcaster Hall of Fame and he received the AGQC Cornerstone Award from the American Gospel Quartet Convention.
Denver’s alchemy for success has always been simple: “A deep belief in God, always tell the truth and dedication to his work as a man to be counted on to get the job done.
Helen Turner Thompson
Mrs. Helen Turner-Thompson is a native of Ohio, an anointed woman of GOD, a living Gospel legend, Music Pioneer, Composer, Musician and Author. Mrs. Turner-Thompson’s motto is “To Serve This Present Age, My Calling to Fulfill, May All My Powers Be Engaged, To Do My Master’s Will.”
At the age of thirteen, Mrs. Helen Turner-Thompson composed, wrote and published her first song entitled “I’M SAVED UNTO THEE.” A student of the late Gladys Weaver and Helen Dean Seay. Helen’s career began as a pianist of the Turner Gospel Singers, a broadcasting Gospel-Chorale group. Her rudiment to the world of sacred and gospel music began at the Coleman’s Gospel Music and Church Supply Store established in 1940 by Helen’s mother, the late Henrietta Coleman. Through this media, she met the pioneers of Gospel Music; Professor Thomas A. Dorsey, Ms. Sallie Martin, Ms. Roberta Martin, Ms. Mahalia Jackson and other well-known Gospel Artists who inspired her to become a serious instrumentalist in the field of Gospel Music.
While attending school at Central Senior High, she served as student director of the Acapella Choir. In her senior year, she was enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Music as a Theory/Voice Major with inspirations to become the next Marian Anderson. Her pipe organ studies were with the late Dr. E.A. Kraft, Dean of OGA. A series of spiritual events led her to the Gospel Music area where she has served. Under the tutelage of her composition instructor and mentor, the late Thomas W. Hill, she became a pianist, arranger, and soloist for the Second Mount Sinai Baptist Church Gospel Choir. She later returned as Choir-Master Organist in 1985.
Mrs. Helen Turner-Thompson collaborated and assisted in the research for a “Black America” series book, featuring the pioneers, educators, and historical persons of Cleveland, Ohio with Dr. Regina Williams, a Professor of History at Cleveland State University (Published February 2002). Mrs. Turner-Thompson has been honored by Taller works Association at a ceremony held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She has received several Ohio Grants as a Traditional Gospel Music Master Artist; and was added to the History Makers Association (web-site) of Chicago, Illinois. In 2016 she Completed and published, a biographical sketch of her life in the Ministry of Music called “In His Presence” and in 2018 was honored as a pioneer in Gospel Music by the City of Cleveland, during their annual Gospel Concert.
Bishop Robert Lee Hubbard
Bishop Robert Lee Hubbard was born on May 18, 1938, in Cleveland, Ohio to Luella Hubbard and Oscar Freeman. He was the youngest of six children, educated in Cleveland, graduating in 1956 from the East Technical High School.
At an early age Bishop Hubbard accepted Christ and was baptized at the Elizabeth Baptist Church. After his salvation experience, he began his gospel-singing career. As a pioneer in the Gospel music industry, Bishop Hubbard was blessed to share the stage with such Gospel greats as, Mahalia Jackson, Sally Martin, Roberta Martin, Rev. James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews, Dorothy Norwood and Sam Cooke, just to name a few.
In 1969, he married Virginia “Freda” Alexander and to this union was born four children: Robert, Jr., Rodney, Ronald and Victoria. He revered this as his greatest accomplishment; his four children. He trained them in music and scripture, which allowed them the opportunity to excel in their gifts of music and ministry. Today, they carry on his legacy!
In 1951 he debuts with the Rose of Sharon Juniors Quartette. Shortly afterwards he began a solo ministry with over 54 appearances in the first three months. In 1956 he sang with the John Hicks Singers and Revival Soloist with The Rev. Thomas from Detroit, Michigan, they traveled extensively. In 1957 he initiated a 27-day City Wide Thanksgiving Singing Revival and began singing with the famed Raymond Rasberry Singers, who recorded “Jesus, King of Kings” on the popular Savoy Label. In 1959 he organized the Gospel Concordants. In 1960 he was drafted into the United States Army and honorably discharged in 1963. That same year he organized and directed choirs at Enoree Baptist Church and Morning Star Baptist Church. He organized, directed and/or managed the following: The Hubbard Singers, The Hubbard Specials and the Community Voices of Faith, notwithstanding The Gospel Concordants! He also nurtured Deborah Austin, Min. Leonard Champion and Deborah Boyd (vocal coach for American Idol).
Odessa Still was born, June 2, 1924, in Birmingham, Alabama; the daughter of Hattie and Monroe Washington. She has resided in Cleveland, Ohio since the age of 15 years old. The first Sunday in August 1959, she and her husband William “Skippy” Still, initially embraced the air waves of Cleveland and surrounding areas with music over station WMMS FM. Six months later, their radio ministry moved to station WABQ AM. Later, using the air waves of WJMO AM, for 15 years, she ministered Gospel music to a vast listening audience, encouraging the sick and shut-in and informing listeners of community services and activities. Eventually her melodious “honey toned’” voice, echoed over Radio Station WABQ from
11:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. each Saturday.
Odessa’s broadcasting ministry was a blessing to listeners of all denominations and nationalities. Regardless of weather conditions and other obstacles, ODESSA graces the “Air Seat.” She had for many years served the Christian Community with booking and promoting local and nationally known recording artists such as, Rev. James Cleveland, Shirley Caesar, Dixie Humming Birds, Mighty Clouds, Staple Singers and Sam Cooke, just to name a few. Odessa takes great pride as organizer of “Ladies of Gospel”, with their primary function as hostesses for Christian Activities in Cleveland and other cities of Ohio. Not limited to the Cleveland vicinity, Odessa arranges and host travel for group cruises and bus tours over the country to scenic, cultural and historical locations. ODESSA”S special community interests include visiting the elderly in Nursing Facilities. Both from Cleveland’s station WABQ 1540 AM.
A profound legend in the art of broadcasting, she received local and national recognition earning the title ‘’Queen of the Airwaves’’ among her constituents. A member of Holy Trinity Baptist Church, and The Gospel Music Workshop of America, this beautiful Christian woman and radio announcer was a Humanitarian, Gospel Promoter, MC, Mentor and friend to many.
the Weeden family singers
The Weeden Family Singers consists of four generations. The father and advisor of this unique group is Dr. John T. Weeden, of the St. Timothy Missionary Baptist Church, of Cleveland, Ohio, who has pastored for thirty-six years. He along with Mrs. Gladys Weeden, now deceased, are the reason for the family’s musical heritage. Within the· group of thirty-eight members are three sisters, two brothers, their children, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and associates. Ages range from four to eighty.
The Weeden Family Singers performances have been heralded at Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio, Ohio State Convention, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, and throughout the midwestern United States. “The Family” appeared in concert with Rev. Al Green. The family was nominated in the category of non-recording choir for Cleveland’s First Black Gospel Music Awards in October 1984 and was the winner in that category. The family also appeared in concert with Minister Thomas A. Whitfield and appeared for the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation. The family record their first album on October 21, 1984.
Their most capable and conscientious director was, Mr. Paul W. Weeden, Jr. who was eventually called into the ministry. He is a former member of the Music Masters of Indianapolis, Indiana, a former member of Cleveland’s own Raymond Raspberry Singers, and played the part of the preacher in the Broadway hit, “Your Arms Too Short -To Box -With God,” in Paris France.
Their accompanist was Mrs. Avis D. Graves, daughter of Mrs. Ada Graves and Rev. Ollie Graves. She’s a graduate of Spelman College of Atlanta, Georgia with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music. God has chosen and anointed them to do a special work for Him, as they
promised to love one another as they have been taught, and to serve God always.
the elite jewels
In 1936 Mrs. Etta Mae Hurd, Mrs. Johnnie Mae Feagen and Brother Leroy Gaynor formed “The Sunray Gospel Singers.” The group consisted of Mrs. Etta M. (Feagan) Hurd, Miss Thelma Coleman, Miss Josephine Knight and Beulah Smith. In 1937 Mr. Leroy Gaynor changed the name to The Elite Jewels. Under Mr. Gaynor’s direction, the group traveled to various cities across the state singing God’s praises. Shortly afterwards Mr. Arthur Turner became their manager and these talented, anointed women of God soon made fans across the country.
In a documentary celebrating their 50th Anniversary, Mr. Turner said, “I met the Elite Jewels in 1937 and in December, 1938, I was their instructor. They were very young and liked to play and have fun among themselves, that bothered me at times. So I rehearsed them real hard for 45 minutes and then allowed them to have a 15-minute break to rest or play. This seemed to be just what they wanted. They would play and have fun together, and then they were ready for more rehearsal. They were never late for rehearsal or for a program, regardless of the weather conditions, as most of them “walked.”
Their dedication as young girls gave me inspiration and I decided to stay on as long as they want-ed me to. In 1943 they asked me to be their manager. By me knowing many people, churches and booking managers across the country, the group was in demand and began to travel a lot. They’ve traveled to over 43 states and have been in more cities than they can began to count.”
The Elite Jewels, have performed on the same concerts with many of the greatest singers in Gospel Music history, such as, The Caravans, Shirley Ceaser, Inez Andrews, The original Gospel Harmonettes, The Original Soul Stirrers, Dixie Humming Birds, Andre Crouch, The Davis Sisters, Dorothy Love, Reverend James Cleveland and The Gospel Music Workshop of America, and many others.
For many years their song “Bedside of a Neighbor” opened the radio broadcast, for manager Arthur Turner. The Elite Jewels have been extremely blessed to record with five major Recording Companies; Palda Records, Peacock Records, Simpson Records, Songbird and Savoy Records. They were promoted eight consecutive weeks on the then popular television show “P.M. Magazine.”
the shields brothers
The term Gospel quartet refers to several different traditions of harmony singing. It’s origins can be traced back to slavery; it’s sound, varied, including 4-part hymn singing, shape note singing, jubilee songs, spirituals and gospel songs. Gospel quartets sing in four-part harmonies, a part given to the tenor or highest part; lead, which usually takes the melody and baritone which blends the sounds and adds richness; and the bass, or lowest part. It’s not uncommon for quartets to switch parts between each member. But it’s the powerful, colorful, charismatic lead singer that touches the audience and brings life to the gospel quartet’s performance.
The Shields Brothers were a mainstay of Cleveland’s gospel music for more than seventy years. The Shields Brothers began singing in 1928. The members were Lee Crosby, Arthur Beasley, Arthur Turner, James Henderson and Claude Shields Sr. Together they paved the way for black gospel quartet music in Ohio. Their most popular song was, “When the roll is called in heaven, I’ll be there.” The Shields Brothers were frequent guest singers on gospel radio and traveled across the country on the Gospel Quartet circuit; they were known for their sweet harmonious voices. Their uniformity and style became the model for other Cleveland male quartets to pattern themselves after.
William Spivery was born in Fort Mitchell, Alabama on December 25, 1930 to the late William Spivery, Sr. and Bertha Washington. He was the eldest of three children. He had two sisters, Rose Lee Peacock of Fort Wayne, Indiana and Irene (who preceded him in death over fifty years ago).
William married Buredell Maddox of Phoenix City, Alabama on August 20, 1950. While living in the south, a son was born, William Curtis, to the young couple. William needed to make more money to provide for his family and made the decision to move up north to Cleveland, Ohio to find employment. He worked in factories, car dealerships and attempted to create his own business, which he eventually did, Spivery Upholstering. During this period, 3 more children were born: Michael Carnell, Sandra Denise and Rudy Darnell. They also became parents to his deceased sister’s son, Robert Lee.
William continued to pursue his love for God through music. He co-founded a gospel singing group, the Friendly Brothers in 1959. The Friendly Brothers became one of Cleveland’s more successful gospel groups. Wiliam also composed songs in honor of three inspirational men of the 20th century: “Douglas MacArthur” in honor of General Douglas MacArthur; “Mr. John” honoring the 35th President of the United States and “Non-Violent Man” in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Later, he started a new gospel group known as Bill Spivery and The Sons of Truth. William Spivery composed the song “Operator” in 1955 and the song crossed over into popular music in 1975 through a remake by the jazz group, The Manhattan Transfer. The song was such a hit that it reached number 20 on the Billboard Charts. The song is still a standard at every concert for this international group. As the years passed, accolades and awards mounted for William Spivery: Broadcasters Hall of Fame, a founding member of the Gospel Music Workshop, Cleveland Chapter, and founder of DeeJay Records. The last group he founded was Bill Spivery and the Operators. They were featured on Bobby Jones Gospel Show and several shows, concerts, radio and television.
William Spivery became the consummate songwriter whose work has been featured on CBS, television shows, and his song Operator was the lead song in the hit movie “Phone Booth”. He had entertained the Cleveland Gospel community as a radio personality on WELW and WABQ and via many concerts.
Awarded to the Gospel Promoter of the Year
Awarded to the Soloist of the Year
Awarded to the Male Group of the Year
Awarded to the MC of the year
Awarded to the Mixed Group Of The Year
Awarded to the People's Choice
Awarded to the Musician of the Year
Awarded to the Female Group of the Year
Awarded to the Radio Host of the Year