Glorious Gospel

The Reverend Dr. James Edward Cleveland 

The Reverend Dr. James Edward Cleveland (1931-1991) was a gospel singer, piano player, composer and arranger from Chicago, IL. He is widely referred to as the King of Gospel music, since he was a driving force behind the development of the modern gospel sound where traditional black gospel is blended with soul, jazz and pop in arrangements for large choirs.

Throughout his long and illustrious career, Cleveland appeared on hundreds of recordings and also made a huge amount of live performances.

Some of his best known gospel renditions are:

  • “Peace Be Still,” which he recorded in 1963. It sold exceptionally well and stayed on the Billboard charts for at least 15 years after its release.
  • “Jesus Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me”
  • “Lord, Help Me To Hold Out,”
  • “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired”
  • “Where Is Your Faith?”

Basic facts about James Cleveland

Birth name James Edward Cleveland
Born December 5, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois, USA
Died February 9, 1991 in Culver City, California, USA
Genres Gospel

Traditional black gospel
Urban contemporary gospel

Soul music

Occupation(s) Singer


Music minister

Instruments Vocals


Labels Byg, Gamble and Huff, HOB, HRB Music Company, King James, Musidisc, Nashboro, Phoenix, Savoy, Sonorous, Soul Parade, States, Thunderbird, UpFront

Musical Hall of Fame

Cleveland was inducted inot Music Hall of Fame in 1984.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

James Cleveland was the first gospel musician to be given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Grammy Awards

  • Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance 1974:
    James Cleveland & The Southern California Community Choir: In the Ghetto
  • Grammy Award won for Best Soul Gospel Performance, Traditional 1977:
    James Cleveland: James Cleveland Live at Carnegie Hall
  • Grammy Award won for Best Soul Gospel Performance, Traditional 1980:
    James Cleveland & The Charles Fold Singers: Lord, Let Me Be an Instrument
  • Grammy Award won for Best Gospel Album by a Choir or Chorus 1990:
    The Southern California Community Choir: Having Church


James Cleveland was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1931.

As a boy, he started out as a soprano in the Pilgrim Baptist Church. The pianist for the choir was Roberta Martin, of “The Roberta Marting Singers”-fame. The musical director for the choir was Thomas Dorsey, widely hailed as the Father of Black Gospel Music.

During his teenage years, Cleveland was a part of a local gospel group. During this time, he strained his vocal cords and this injury was the reason for his distinctive gravelly voice in his later years. The damage to his vocal cords made the teenage Cleveland turn his attention to playing the piano, and eventually also to composing and arranging gospel music.

In 1950, Cleveland became a part of the trio The Gospelaires together with Norsalus McKissick and Bessie Folk. After this trio disbanded, Cleveland started working as composer and arranger – hired by Roberta Martin.

Albertina Walker & The Caravans

Cleveland was a childhood friend of the renowned gospel artist and starmaker Albertina Walker, founder of The Caravans. He started working with her, and in November 1954, she convinced States Records to let him record with her group. This was Cleveland’s very first recording.

Savoy Records

After the closing of States Records in 1957, Cleveland worked and recorded with various gospel groups, and also did a solo recording of Ray Charle’s famous song “Halleluja I Love Her So”, but it would be his version of the Soul Stirrer’s song “The Love of God”, backed by the Voices of Tabernacle, that caught the attention of the legendary jazz label Savoy Records.

Cleveland signed with Savoy in 1962, a decision which would have a huge impact on this future career. He would continue to work with Savoy until his death in 1991, releasing a great number of soul gospel recordings – many of them recorded in a live concert setting.

King James Records

Cleveland ran his own independent record label, King James Records, in 1995-1998. The records were manufactored and distributed by Sound of Gospel/Nine Records Inc.


James Cleveland died in Culver City, California on February 9, 1991. He was 59 years old.

His grave is found at Inglewood Park Cemetary in Inglewood, California.