By Bob Marovich
Gospel quartet legend Willie Joe Ligon passed away on Sunday, December 11.
Homegoing and memorial details are at the bottom of this report.
Born October 11, 1936, in Troy, Alabama, Ligon migrated to Los Angeles at age 14 and met his future mates in the Mighty Clouds of Joy in the mid-1950s while attending Jefferson High School. Like top quartets such as the Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and the Gospelaires of Dayton, the Clouds incorporated the growls, shouts, and rasp of African American preachers into their singing, a style sometimes referred to as “hard gospel.”
The group’s first recording is quite possibly a ca 1956-7 disc on the L.A.-based Elko label, on which they were known as the “Sensational Clouds of Joy.” Then Brother “Duke” Henderson, an L.A. musician turned gospel radio personality, record company owner, and religious retailer, heard the group singing around the city in the late 1950s and recorded some live performances for his Proverb label.
In 1960, the Mighty Clouds of Joy auditioned for, and were signed by, Peacock Records, one of the premier record companies for gospel quartets. The group enjoyed a long run with the Houston-based label, recording and touring across the country, becoming one of the nation’s top gospel quartets. Among the Clouds’ early hits was a remake of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” retitled “Family Circle.”
Updating their sound to confirm to the changes in popular music, the Mighty Clouds innovated with 1975’s “Mighty High,” a disco-influenced song that crossed over onto the pop charts. While the church community looked askance at this bold new sound, youngsters were tearing up the club floors to the sound of “Mighty High.”
OFFICIAL STATEMENT REGARDING THE DEATH OF WILLIE JOE LIGON
We are heartbroken to share the news that the World’s Greatest Male Gospel Singer – Willie Joe Ligon, Founder and Lead Singer of the three time Grammy Award winning group – The Mighty Clouds of Joy of Los Angeles, California passed away today Sunday, December 11, 2016.
Joe was a loving Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother, Cousin, Uncle, Mentor, and Friend to so many who loved him dearly.
As much as Joe cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.
While we mourn the loss of a very good and humble man, we also celebrate his remarkable life as one of the most successful Artist in Gospel Music History and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.
For those who may ask what they can do to honor Joe, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a stormy day think of Joe and get comfort in knowing that he is no longer in the storm.
Additional information about the final arrangements will be released to the General Public pending Mr. Ligon’s Family’s approval.
We kindly ask everyone to please respect the Family’s privacy during this time of bereavement.
Pastor Isaac Lindsey
Joe Ligon & The Mighty Clouds of Joy
NOTE: 12/12/16 update: replaces birth date of September 11, 1942, reported in several published sources, with the correct birth date of October 11, 1936, supplied by Mr. Ligon’s daughter, Debra. My thanks to Debra for the correction.