Gospel’s Willie James McPhatter Dies; Performed in “Black Nativity”

JGM learned from Anthony Heilbut today that Willie James McPhatter, gospel singer-songwriter and accompanist, has died.

Originally from Buffalo, New York, McPhatter–the cousin of Clyde McPhatter of the world-famous vocal groups the Dominoes and Drifters–had worked with a number of gospel groups by 1954 when Alex Bradford (“Too Close to Heaven”) approached him about joining the Bradford Singers. Although he initially declined, McPhatter joined the Bradford Singers two years later. He toured with the group, soloed on occasion, and recorded with the group for Specialty and Vee Jay Records.

McPhatter also worked with Bradford on the 1960 Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir album on Columbia. The album, reissued on CD as Shakin’ the Rafters, was cited as author Tom Moon as among the “1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die.” McPhatter soloed on “You’ve Got to Bear the Consequence” but admitted to JGM’s Bob Marovich several years ago that he was not pleased with his recorded performance of the song.

Perhaps the highlight of McPhatter’s career was performing in the U.S. and overseas as part of the hit gospel musical, Black Nativity, with his fellow Bradford Singers, Princess Stewart, and Marion Williams and the Stars of Faith.

Willie James McPhatter went on to work as an accompanist and singer with the Caravans, penning the melancholy “Three People,” about the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a member of the Chicago Area Gospel Announcers Guild of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.

Homegoing Details:
Saturday January 31, 2015
Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church
6352 South Eggleston – Chicago, Illinois

Musical Tribute – 11:00 am until 12:00 pm
Service 12:00 pm

Interment – Mt. Hope Cemetery
11500 South Fairfield Avenue
Chicago, Illinois

Repast: Following Interment
Mount Moriah M. B. Church

Services Entrusted To:
Southwest Memorial Chapel
7901 South Komensky Avenue – Chicago, Illinois

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.

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