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James Cleveland was born on this date in 1932. He was a Black minister, composer, and gospel vocalist.
Born in Chicago, Cleveland’s life calling began at that city’s Pilgrim Baptist Church. Mahalia Jackson lived on Cleveland’s paper route and influenced his career. In 1953, he joined a gospel group called the Caravans as a pianist, arranger, and occasional singer. They had two successful recordings, "The Solid Rock" and "Old Time Religion." Between 1956 and 1960, Cleveland wrote an average of three songs a week.
During this time he left the Caravans, moved to Detroit as the musical director at the Bethel Baptist Church, and formed his own group, The Gospel Chimes. It was during this time that he collaborated with Aretha Franklin on the Grammy-winning album "Amazing Grace" and received a record contract with Savoy Records. While there, Cleveland recorded over 100 albums and in 1963 released "Peace Be Still," which remained on the gospel music charts for 15 years.
That same year he moved to Los Angeles as pastor of the New Greater Harvest Baptist Church, and in 1970, he opened his own house of worship, the Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church. During the 1980s Cleveland became a gospel music legend, maintaining his commitment to the gospel. His imaginative arrangements brought jazz and pop rhythms into the music and paved the way for fusion gospel artists such as Edwin Hawkins and Andrae Crouch.
James Cleveland suffered severe respiratory problems in his later years and died of heart failure on February 9, 1991, in Los Angeles.