RIP: Sister Lucille Pope

By Bob Marovich

Malaco Music Group announced that Sister Lucille Pope passed away Thursday, September 26. Home going arrangements are as follows:

Saturday, October 5, 2019
Time: 11:00 a.m.
Location: The Covenant Church
1700 Corey Blvd.
Decatur, GA 30032

Funeral Home: McDowell Funeral Home
305 N. Hill St.
Griffin, GA 30223

From her Malaco Music Group bio, which I created for their website:
Born Lucille Hall on January 12, 1936, to a Concord, Georgia, sharecropping family, Pope sang while she plowed the fields. She also sang at church and at school, and wrote lyrics and songs whenever the spirit led her. She assembled the Pearly Gates quartet from two brothers and a brother-in-law. The group grew to include Larry Bivens, Henry Milner, Sam Jennings, James Willis, Jack Ellis and Lucille’s new husband, Willie Pope.

Never intending to be anything more than a local quartet, the Pearly Gates sang on gospel announcer Ed Shane’s fifteen-minute broadcast over Griffin, Georgia, radio station WGRI. When the station jingles the group recorded for WGRI began gaining as much, if not more, listener attention as their live broadcasts, Shane wanted to record them on his indie label, Eddo.

The group was not interested in recording, but Shane persuaded them to cut four sides. Of these sides, recorded in 1964, the first two to be coupled were the Pope-led “Almighty God” and Bivens-led “Early One Morning.” The group’s minimalist traditional sound—only a guitar for accompaniment—coupled with Shane’s radio promotion gave the single sufficient push that Vee Jay Records reissued it nationally. Not to be outdone by its Chicago neighbor, Chess Records purchased the two unreleased Pearly Gates cuts from Eddo, “Jesus Tore My Heart to Pieces” and “Highway,” and put them out on Checker Records. The quartet that wanted to remain local and was hesitant to record was suddenly a national gospel sensation.

Nevertheless, Sister Lucille Pope and the Pearly Gates did not record again until they signed with Nashboro around 1973. Their first single for Nashboro, “Somebody’s Gone” (1974), extended the group’s penchant for releasing hits. By this time, Willie Pope had died, Lucille remarried, and her new husband, Louis Alexander, assumed duties as the Pearly Gates’ organist and guitarist. Other Pearly Gates personnel during the Nashboro years included Henry Miller, James Willis, Kell Ponder, Willie Willis, Charles Stephens and Walter Holmes.

Aghast after Nashboro allegedly released Pearly Gates singles unfinished and without the group’s consent, the quartet moved to Atlanta International Records (AIR). Starting in 1982 with Moving Up, the quartet recorded six albums for AIR. The Great Reunion (1984) hit number 24 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart. Other AIR albums included Dedication (1986) and God’s Promises (1990). By this time, the Pearly Gates personnel featured a new generation of Popes: Willie “Bubba” and Reginald “Pee Wee” Pope.

In 2014, the American Gospel Quartet Convention inducted Sister Lucille Pope into its Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Sister Pope sang in as clear and strong an alto as ever.

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.

One comment

  1. Pastor James Abraham

    The Abraham Brothers were good friends with Sis. Pope and booked her through Dock Abraham. We the Dynamic Abraham Brothers ( 2nd & 3rd generation Abrahams ) extend our condolences.

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