From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Special thanks to gospel discographer Bob Laughton for alerting TBGB to Edgar’s passing.
Edgar O’Neal, one of the O’Neal Twins gospel singers, died Wednesday (Jan. 16, 2008) at Christian Hospital after a short illness. He was 70 and a resident of Spanish Lake.
Mr. O’Neal and his late brother, Edward Vazon O’Neal Jr., began singing gospel at age 12. In 1969, the O’Neals were voted the “World’s Greatest Gospel Duo” by the National Association of Television and Radio Artists. Their duet “Jesus Dropped the Charges” won them national acclaim in the movie “Say Amen, Somebody” — a documentary on gospel music pioneer Willa Mae Ford Smith.
In 2004, the duo were inducted into the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame alongside CeCe Winans, Donnie McClurkin and other gospel figures. The duo recorded nearly two dozen albums, including some for Leon Russell’s record label.
During the 1950s, the O’Neal brothers performed in churches around St. Louis. By 1960, they were performing outside the area.They performed nationally at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and the Kennedy Center, and locally at the Fox Theatre, American Theatre, Powell Symphony Hall, Kiel Auditorium and Westport Playhouse.
In a 2005 interview with the Post-Dispatch, Mr. O’Neal spoke about the early challenges. “We always had bookings and recordings, but when we started, black gospel was not readily accepted with the wide range it is today,” he said. “And the money wasn’t there.”
The O’Neals — with Edgar on piano and both brothers singing — challenged gospel tradition. “The main gospel thrust at the time (was) male quartets, and we were a piano group,” Mr. O’Neal said. “We were considered in a different category from the male singing groups. But then the quartets got into piano. It took some years as we stayed out there before our style took hold.”
Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Kossuth Temple Church of God and Christ, 3801 Clarence Avenue. The funeral service will follow at 8 p.m. at Kossuth. Interment will be Friday, Jan. 25 at St. Peters Cemetery.
Among the survivors are his wife, Lillian O’Neal; a daughter, Chandra O’Neal of Spanish Lake; and a brother, William Crawford of St. Louis.