If you were blessed to live during the era of dominance among gospel mass choirs within the gospel music industry, you can recall the devastation of losing many black men and some black women back in the 1980's and early 90's, because of the epidemic of AIDS. Especially back in the early and mid 80's, it was not only a scary time in the black church, but also within the gospel music industry. We began hearing of shocking deaths of gifted black men whom died off, one by one. Some were very prominent single and married pastors and bishops of the holiness and baptist church and the rest of the AIDS victims were those within their sanctuaries. Among all of the shocking reports of black men and even their wives and children being infected with AIDS, there were those whom were talented musicians and sang in mass choirs, then in 1991 after the King of gospel, the late Rev. James Cleveland allegedly died of the disease, many of us whom recognize authentic gospel realized there was a permanent silence to hearing gospel mass choirs, all over this nation. Indeed, there was a death of great mass choirs and big names we began to hear about created music unrecognizable.
The sound of the organ began to die within the gospel music industry and music artists whom were yet alive began to accept the new generation of merging hip hop within their music. The substance of gospel music was lost, songs about living holy while feeling the spirit became a memory. Along with gospel songs that taught us how to live according to God's Word were also memories of funerals held for choir directors that produced them. Strangely, we also can recall when the death of congregational songs ceased from among many congregants of black churches whom avoided discussion about AIDS as they grew into mega ministries. The long church songs played on record albums with the sound of hand claps, tambourines, bongos and drums following along with the piano and organ became known as traditional gospel music. The truth is, it was not just because gospel music was going through a new trend, it was simply because those whom dominated the industry during the reign of Rev. James Cleveland had mostly died of AIDS and some other diseases. Since the new fad of pastors growing their black churches into multicultural mega ministries, there were no more restrictions on those whom sang gospel songs. Most gospel music became mainstream that not only could reach European audiences, but could also make a lucrative income to satisfy fans of hip-hop and rap, the youth. Since AIDS had swept through many mass choirs and took a lot of lives of great men in the pulpits whom not only preached, but also created great gospel hits, many celebrity pastors began insulting the gospel songs that allowed the Holy Ghost to move and bless the souls within their churches and even concerts. Hundreds of voices that silenced good gospel music left us in an era of barely any anointing coming from certain gospel artists whom yearned fame and fortune while mingling with secular music artists. Although, many of today's gospel artists have made their money, by blending rap and hip hop in their songs, the memory of many funerals of well-known greats will never cease in the minds of those whom loved and appreciated them. When we mention gospel greats, we are not referring necessarily to gospel music artists, but also all of those whom led songs in mass choirs and even those whom directed them. Although, it was very discreet among many black congregants about how many of them died of AIDS, regarding their sexuality, some former members of those mass gospel choirs can recall the popular names, whether they lived in the west coast or east coast and they cannot deny losing a close friend or relative that was a member of one of those mass choirs. According to, 'And The Choir Sings On', it was mentioned about the sadness, regarding members of Wilmington's Chester Mass Choir whom allegedly died of AIDS, but many people whom also grew up in the Oakland Bay Area can also recall all of the alleged funerals held at the Love Center Church during the 1980's and early 90's. The legendary drag queen Sylvester who died of AIDS belong to the Love Center Church and his funeral was held there.
Many of us cannot help but wonder, why did these gospel mass choirs come and go, after we lost so many great legends of mass choirs to AIDS? As African Americans whom grew up in the black church, we can now see God gave us such valuable talents, money could never buy. What we hear today, is nothing compared to those gospel songs performed by various mass choirs that made us lift our hands and join in with the choir. We had utmost respect for God's songs and knew how far to go when enjoying them, there was a standard. Much respected gospel legends whom died of AIDS respected God and you could feel their expression of ultimate love for Him in their songs, although they may have had discreet sexual affairs. There has been such a great loss and the youth today do not even know what value their parents and grandparents had during the time when they were growing up. Mass Choirs full of black men and black women were in harmony and gospel music was what brought many of them together, in unity. Unfortunately, same sex affections got in the way and caused a weakness among many popular gospel artists whom had the most beautiful voices and directed their grand choirs full of sopranos, tenors and altos with such pride and dignity. Those of us whom are blessed to yet be alive and hear those recorded songs by mass choirs can agree with us, we had so much more before AIDS (among other diseases) took the lives of such great legends and those whom sang their gospel songs. Those legends had so much power, some gospel artists whom allow collaboration with the secular industry today would have been afraid to do so back then and the thought of gospel music being a 'trend' or being called 'old-fashioned' or 'traditional' would not have ever been thought of. However, because of the rebellion among most black preachers today, they have cashed in on the rap and hip-hop merging with the gospel music industry.
It is very sad for us to admit the truth, but it seemed as though black gospel choirs died with many gospel legends whom died of AIDS in their caskets. No longer, do we hear actual church services going forth in the Spirit like on previous albums conducted by some who not necessarily died of AIDS, but possibly other health conditions. Of course, when mention many gifted leaders Rev. James Cleveland, Charles Fold, Donald Vails, Thomas Whitefield, Rev. Ernest Davis, Jr., Rev. James Moore, Frank Williams, you see all of those lives were of really talented black men. They created gospel music that stirred the soul so much, people were often heard on albums shouting, screaming and rejoicing in the Lord. Even the soloists they appointed to lead specific songs were very naturally anointed and they touched many souls, still to this day. However, the death of anointed gospel choirs may have ceased from among us, but we will always remember those good times rushing to the record stores to buy certain albums that really touched and stirred our souls. So sad to admit, because many of them died of AIDS (and various other diseases), we will only hear such dynamic gospel mass choirs performing in heaven, the substance of authentic gospel music died with them.
Note: Although, we acknowledge, there are some mass choirs that exist today, they do not compare to those directed by late legends in previous decades. They are not standard of value in comparison to previous mass choirs.