The Rev. James Cleveland, the acclaimed “King of Gospel” whose voice was stilled recently by health problems, died Saturday of congestive heart failure, according to his manager, Annette Thomas. He was 59.
Cleveland’s singing style and commitment to excellence inspired an array of secular singers. Cleveland was admitted to Brotman Medical Center in Culver City on Thursday suffering from respiratory problems, Thomas said.
“Even though this is a triumphal home-going, I’m going to miss him terribly,” said Thomas, who had been his manager for 25 years.
“I am saddened to learn of the death of the Rev. James Cleveland,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden. “He was a legend who touched millions of lives. His memory and his music will last forever.”
Cleveland, who would later win three Grammys and earn 15 gold records, grew up on the South Side of Chicago and befriended Jesse Jackson at a young age.
Last year, a show was held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion honoring Cleveland for 50 years in gospel music. Singer Joe Ligon recalled Cleveland’s influence and the effort he made to bring recognition to gospel music.
As his fame grew, Cleveland sang for President Jimmy Carter and released with Aretha Franklin in 1972 what is considered a landmark gospel album, “Amazing Grace.” He also founded and was pastor of Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church in Los Angeles, where funeral services are tentatively scheduled Saturday.
Because of health problems, Cleveland had been unable to sing for nearly a year. To his surprise, his voice returned enough last Sunday that he was able to sing a little, Thomas said.
“He mentioned to the congregation, ‘If I don’t see you again and if I don’t sing again, I’m a witness to the fact that the Lord answers prayer. He let my voice come back to me this morning.’ It was prophetic,” Thomas said.
Survivors include a daughter, La Shone Cleveland of Los Angeles, and three sisters, Marian McCoy, Rebecca Brooks and Vicki Cleveland, all of Los Angeles.