The Rev. James Cleveland, 59, the so-called “king of gospel” who taught a 9-year-old Aretha Franklin to sing gospel and inspired countless other artists, died Feb. 9 in Los Angeles. The three-time Grammy winner was hospitalized with respiratory problems and died of heart failure.
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 described his voice as a foghorn, 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 have been certified gold. Cleveland was the first gospel artist to receive a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
He also worked with such figures as Quincy Jones and Edwin Hawkins.
In an interview last year, Cleveland said he got started in the music industry by watching Mahalia Jackson and others perform and filling in for musicians who didn’t show up.
He 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 Aretha, where he taught the girl 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 L.A.’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in October because of a tracheotomy. Earlier in 1990, he had been rushed to a hospital in Washington, D.C., with severe respiratory problems.
Survived by a daughter, three sisters and a brother.