The Journal of Gospel Music was saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Williams, quartet legend and leader of the Spiritual QCs. Below is a brief bio of Williams and the group that I wrote back in 2019:
Born July 28, 1946, and raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, Lee Williams began singing gospel at the tender age of seven. He was encouraged to do so by his uncle, Mitchell Thornton, who was part of a quartet called the Gospel Stars. Soon, Lee and his three brothers were performing as the Gospel Stars Juniors.
Thornton formed another quartet called the Spiritual QCs (the QCs stood for Qualified Christian singers). The group, which included Lee’s brother Willie on guitar, recorded one single, 1958’s “Never Mind,” and it was released on Acquarian Records of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. When the senior QCs disbanded in 1964, Lee and Willie assembled a few others and started a new version of Spiritual QCs.
The new Spiritual QCs recorded “Made it Over” and had it pressed up on the do-it-yourself Designer Records label in 1971. It became a fan favorite. The quartet followed in 1972 with “You Can’t Hurry God” and, with new group member Roger McKinney, “Wonderful” in 1974. In 1980, with Al Hollis as lead guitarist and Leonard Shumpert on drums, the Spiritual QCs recorded their first full-length album, Let’s Go Down, on Slaughterhouse Records.
Weekends, the quartet appeared at churches and gospel programs around the area, earning love offerings for their singing and selling copies of their records and cassettes after each program. Monday through Friday, Williams got behind an eighteen wheeler, tallying more than a thousand miles each week as a truck driver.
In 1996, a second album, Jesus is Alive and Well, was produced by George Dean of the Gospel Four of Memphis and released on the Memphis-based E & J Records. Although locally popular, the Spiritual QCs hit their stride in the mid-1990s when Memphis radio station WDIA began airing songs from the cassettes the group sold at programs. Then a representative of James Bullard’s MCG Records heard them perform at a Birmingham concert. MCG signed the quartet and their first album for the label, Love Will Go All the Way, was recorded in 1997 at the East Birmingham Church of God in Christ and released the following year.
“I’ve Learned to Lean” became Lee Williams and the Spiritual QCs’ first national hit. Williams’s tall and lean figure, straight-as-an-arrow posture, and cool stoicism as lead singer—the polar opposite of the typical animated gospel vocalist/showman—helped distinguish the group and endear them to millions.
The year 2000 saw the release of Good Time: Live in Memphis, and its smash single, “You Didn’t Have To.”
Many popular albums followed: Right on Time, Tell the Angels, Soulful Healing, So Much to be Thankful For, Living on the Lord’s Side—the list goes on. At a time when small choirs and lead vocalists were dominating gospel radio, the Spiritual QCs were one of only two or three quartets that regularly made the Billboard gospel charts. Their 2009 release Fall on Me even made the Billboard 200 (all top-selling albums).
The honors began to accumulate. At the 19th annual Stellar Awards ceremony, the Spiritual QCs took home five trophies, including Traditional Male Vocalist of the Year for Williams. That was just the beginning of the quartet’s recognition by the Stellar Awards, gospel’s most prestigious honor. The QCs were bestowed the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award from the Stellars in 2010. A year later, they were named Traditional Quartet of the Year at the Gospel Music Excellence Awards. In 2016, Lee Williams became Dr. Lee Williams when he received an honorary doctorate of sacred music from Bible Believers Christian College and Seminary in Hawthorne, California.
Despite their success, Lee Williams and the Spiritual QCs do not rest on their laurels. Working 50 weeks out of the year, they can tally as many as 200 appearances in a year.
It’s no surprise, then, that Lee Williams and the Spiritual QCs is considered gospel’s most popular quartet. It goes to show that great things can, and often do, come from humble beginnings. That great things come to those who persevere in the service of the Lord. And that Tupelo, Mississippi, is known for more than producing a certain hip-swiveling rock ‘n’ roll singer in blue suede shoes!