By Robert M. Marovich
The Journal of Gospel Music was saddened to learn of the passing of Zadella “Mama” Curtis. She transitioned from earthly labor to heavenly reward yesterday, August 28, at age 73.
Although Mama Curtis was best known for helping gospel quartets promote their music to radio, she started her gospel music career as a choir director. Born and raised in Chicago, Curtis attended Rayfield Missionary Baptist Church, where her grandparents were founding members. She sang her first solo at age three and began directing choirs at age twelve.
Curtis graduated from Hyde Park High School and for about twelve years directed the choir at Hyde Park Career Academy. The high school choir went on to win awards and sang so often during Black History Month that the singers had to have tutors to help them keep up with their studies. The students gave Curtis the nickname “Mama.” “The kids didn’t want to say Mrs. Curtis,” she told me during a June 2009 interview.
Later, as Curtis assisted Melvin Couch with marketing and promotion for his Meltone Records, she began to get requests for representation from artists such as organist Moses Tyson and singer, label owner, and Church of God in Christ National Presiding Bishop G. E. Patterson. She consulted for the Alabama Peoples Choice Award, the Gospel Fest in Atlanta, the Tupelo (Mississippi) Fest, and the Newsome Music Awards. She traveled constantly. It wasn’t surprising to see Mama Curtis at a gospel event in Mississippi one day, Alabama the next, then Chicago a few days later. Among her many accolades are an honorary degree and, just this past Saturday, an award from the S&M Indie Gospel Awards.
There’s no gospel quartet on the road today that doesn’t know the name of Zadella “Mama” Curtis and wasn’t in some way helped by her. She was one of the hardest working ladies in gospel music and loved by everyone. I will miss her terribly, and send my love and big hugs to her daughters T’Mil and Toi, and to the rest of her extended family.