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4,000 Give Cleveland a Gospel Farewell : Music: A 500-voice choir, Stevie Wonder and Andrae Crouch are among throng honoring him during a four-hour service.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Andrae Crouch shared a reminiscence. Stevie Wonder sang one of his songs. Politicians heaped him with praise. And about 4,000 other friends and admirers danced and swayed in the aisles as the voices of 500 choir members resounded across the ornate auditorium.

For the Rev. James Cleveland, the acclaimed king of gospel music, it was a fitting final tribute.

Cleveland, 59, the first gospel singer to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, died Feb. 9 of congestive heart failure at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City. On Saturday, he was honored at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles during a rollicking and respectful memorial service that lasted more than four hours.

Cleveland, clad in a minister’s white robe, lay atop a coffin draped with red velvet on a platform in front of the stage. His burial, at Inglewood Park Cemetery, immediately followed the service.

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Wonder performed “Without a Song,” which Cleveland had made popular. The entertainer said the composition had “inspired me in my life.”

The Rev. Lawrence Roberts of the First Baptist Church of Nutley, N.J., called Cleveland a “genius stylist,” “prolific songwriter” and “master choir director.”

“It goes without saying that Rev. James Cleveland was a legend in his own time,” said Roberts, who helped lead the Gospel Music Workshop, a national, nonprofit organization that Cleveland founded in 1968 to promote and preserve the traditions of gospel song.

Cleveland was also the founder and pastor of the Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church in Los Angeles, where Sunday morning services were often standing room only in the 1,000-seat sanctuary.

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He won four Grammys, had six gold albums and played Carnegie Hall. In 1972, he released “Amazing Grace” with Aretha Franklin, widely considered a landmark album that helped bring about a resurgence of gospel music.

He wrote more than 400 songs, including “Peace Be Still,” one of the first gospel songs to sell more than 1 million copies.

Many of the songs he composed or made famous were performed Saturday by a host of gospel stars, including Crouch, Tremaine Hawkins, the Caravans and members of the Los Angeles Mass Choir, the Los Angeles Gospel Messengers and the Cleveland Singers.

His fans started lining up outside the Shrine Auditorium at 6 a.m. Saturday, even though the memorial service was not scheduled to begin until 11 a.m.

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“I had to come,” said Kay Little, 49, of Hollywood. “His music takes me back to my childhood. It reminds me of the old folk songs my mother taught me and her mother taught her. It touches my soul. It’s indescribable.”

Linda Pringle, 37, of Los Angeles said she had studied under Cleveland since she was 3 years old. On Saturday, she came dressed in her choir robe, ready to perform with the other members of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ choir.

“I felt I needed to be here,” she said. “He was like a father to me. His music is something that will live on forever.”


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