By Robert M. Marovich
Debra Robinson informed JGM yesterday that Val Alexander, longtime singer and guitarist for the Gospel Keynotes, passed away on Wednesday, December 16, 2020.
Alexander can be heard on Gospel Keynotes recordings as early as 1970. Here is a brief bio on the Gospel Keynotes:
From Tyler, Texas, Willie Neal Johnson – affectionately known as “Country Boy” – began his professional singing career when Rev. C. W. Jackson invited him to join a local group, the Five Ways of Joy Gospel Singers, while he was still a teenager.
The Five Ways of Joy instilled in Johnson a love of quartet singing, and he set about organizing his own group with hometown friends Ralph McGee, Rev. J.D. Talley, Charles Bailey, John Jackson, Lonzo Jackson and Archie B. McGee. They settled on a name – the Gospel Keynotes.
The Gospel Keynotes got their first big break when they were introduced to Ernie Young of Nashboro Records. By then, the group included Edward James Brumfield, Paul Beasley and Johnny Jones. Their first single, “Show Me the Way,” recorded in June 1964, was also their first hit. The following year, the Keynotes followed up with “Only Right Will Win,” featuring the incomparable lead of Johnny Jones.
The first of dozens of Keynotes albums was released in 1968 and featured yet another Keynotes classic, “One More Time.” Other songs that became popular with Keynotes fans were “The Keynotes Prayer” and “My Life Will Be Sweeter.” It was during their Nashboro years that Alexander became a part of the troupe.
Along with his fellow Gospel Keynotes, Alexander enjoyed a GRAMMY nomination when the group’s 1979 Nashboro release, Ain’t No Stopping Us Now, was up for Best Soul Gospel Performance, Traditional, in 1980.
When Nashboro closed its doors, another door opened at Malaco Records. The Keynotes signed with Malaco in 1985 and continued their string of popular records and touring. It was during their time with Malaco that Johnson and the Keynotes, with Alexander, joined forces with the Mississippi Mass Choir on “I’m Yours, Lord,” giving birth to what is now known as the “choirtet” concept.
A group that never left its traditional roots to embrace the contemporary quartet sound, the Gospel Keynotes will forever be remembered for music that brings to mind an “old fashioned hand clapping, tear streaming revival, led by a soul stirring, aisle walking preacher, singing and shouting and dispensing the gospel.”
JGM extends its deepest condolences to the family, friends, and many fans of the late Val Alexander, and especially to the Gospel Keynotes during this sad time.
Devyn Antwan has created a playlist in tribute to Bro. Alexander and the Gospel Keynotes. You can access it here: