Doris Sykes, Longtime Soloist for Christian Tabernacle, Passes Away

doris sykesBy Bob Marovich

Marcel West and Gregory Gay reported to JGM today that gospel singer Doris Sykes passed away.

From A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music:

Born in St. Louis and raised by an aunt and an uncle who was pastor of a Baptist Church, Doris Sykes was born with a distinctive high soprano range and acquired the poise of an opera singer. Willie Mae Ford Smith was a cousin. Sykes first sang for the public at her uncle’s church. “We used to have musicals,” she said, “and I used to write my dad notes, ‘Please let Doris Sykes sing.’ He knew it was my writing!” The family moved to the Chicago area when Sykes’ uncle became pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in East Chicago, Indiana. New Covenant singer Devella Norton Tuck became one of Sykes’s musical inspirations.

One of Sykes’ early choral directing responsibilities was for the South Side Community Choir, which in the mid-1950s numbered approximately 200 voices. Sykes recalled that at one point it grew to as many as 500 singers. Stanley Keeble was one of its accompanists. In 1957, the choir recorded a vanity disc on the South Side Recording Company, coupling “Somebody Touched Me” and “Great Is The Lord.” The group was said to have “more male soloists…than any other Chicago choir.” Several of the choir’s male soloists, including Melvin Smothers, Woodrow Walker, Karl Tarleton, Willie Shepard, and Rev. Dr. Issac Whittmon, became renowned gospel soloists in the 1960s and 1970s.

Doris also served as choir director for True Light Baptist Church and Watley Temple COGIC. After her tenure at True Light, Sykes went to Hyde Park Bible Church, where Rev. Maceo Woods was minister of music, and directed the choir there. She followed Woods when he founded Christian Tabernacle Church. Sykes, Smothers, and others organized themselves into the Christian Tabernacle Ensemble to sing for services. She became a prominent member, soloist, and recording artist with the larger Christian Tabernacle Concert Choir, and was honored for her service in many ways, most recently at the annual Gospel Supreme concert, hosted by Woods.  Nobody can forget her high soprano notes on songs such as “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”

Doris was a longtime and devoted member of the Chicago Area Gospel Announcers Guild, and will be sorely missed by her friends, acquaintances, and legions of gospel music fans.  

Homegoing details are as follows:

Lie In State:
Friday, February 12, 2016
4:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Celebration of Life:
Saturday, February 13, 2016
10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Both services held at:
Christian Tabernacle Church
Rev. Maceo Woods, Founder and Pastor
4712 South Prairie Avenue
Chicago, IL

For further information, call (773) 548-2500

About Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.


  1. What a gift Mama Sykes has been to the city of Chicago and Gospel music at large!!

    • I am saddened to hear this. I waited with eager anticipation back in the 70’s for the next album by Rev. Maceo Woods and The Christian Tabernacle Choir. My mother passed away in early 2015 which has been the most difficult death I’ve ever had to deal with. She also loved Doris Sykes singing.

      • Hello, sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. It is always too soon to lose a parent. Doris Sykes was a sweetheart, but when she was singing gospel music, she was a force to be reckoned with!

  2. Hi Bob,
    Here is an addendum on Doris Sykes’ recording work with Rev. Maceo Woods and Christian Tabernacle Choir.
    Doris Sykes appeared on 21 Albums

    1961 – Messages of Hope LP
    He Promised Me
    He’s All I Need

    1967 – Sometimes I’m Happy – The Many Moods of Maceo Woods LP
    Somebody Knows

    1969 – Hello Sunshine LP
    The Name of Jesus
    The Lord’s Prayer

    1970- Step to Jesus LP
    It Pays to Serve Jesus

    1971 – In Concert (Reissue) LP

    1971 – Jesus People (Reissue) LP

    1972 – God Save Your People LP
    Jesus is Waiting

    1973 – A New Dawning LP
    He’ll Make Everything Alright
    Brighten the Corner

    1974 – Goodbye Loneliness, Hello Happiness LP
    Through it All
    Jesus When Troubles Burden Me Down

    1976 – Jesus Can Work it Out LP
    Close to Thee
    Just a Closer Walk With Thee

    1977 – Soul and Spirit Concert LP

    1978 – Happy in Jesus LP
    I’m Glad I Found the Christ
    The Name of Jesus

    1979 – Dwell in Me LP
    Somebody Knows
    It Is Well

    1980 – Something Within LP
    Fill My Cup Lord
    Tell It, Sing It, Shout It

    1980 – Gospel Supreme Eighty Prelude LP
    Lord You’re My Everything
    Jesus is My Way
    Just a Closer Walk With Thee

    1981 – Bringing in the Sheaves LP
    Through It All
    I Heard the Voice of Jesus
    Thus Saith

    1982 – A Live Gospel Experience LP
    He is My Everything

    1983 – A Taste of Good Gospel LP
    Take Me Through

    1986 – Good News Broadcast Volume One LP
    Thank You Jesus

    1987 – Good News Broadcast Volume Two LP
    Touch Me Lord Jesus

    1990 – Back Again Live CD

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