Meet Johnnie Washington: The Apostle’s Mission to Sanctify America
Mack C. Mason
Mack Mason Books & New Alignment Publishers (2024)

By Robert M. Marovich

At the conclusion of each episode of the late 1950s-early 1960s television drama Naked City, the narrator intoned: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

The same could be said of gospel singers and religious leaders.

I don’t know if there are eight million stories, but there are enough that dozens of lifetimes would be insufficient to tell them all. Still, one needs to introduce them one-by-one, and in Meet Johnnie Washington, Chicago COGIC Pastor Mack C. Mason offers a fascinating tale of one of these artists and ministers.

Apostle Johnnie Washington’s life story reads like a Horatio Alger tale, if Alger became a religious leader. His colorful and dynamic journey begins in the boll weevil-infested cotton fields of Mississippi and shifts to the nation’s metropolises, where he sang gospel, directed choirs, preached on the streets, struggled with drug and alcohol use, entered the ministry, and planted a church. That church, the Tabernacle of Prayer for All People, was a harbinger of the now-ubiquitous megachurch. Washington’s weekly radio broadcasts, syndicated to fifty radio stations, earned him a congregation outside the four walls of his New York church. YouTube has plenty of samples of Washington’s sermons.

As a gospel singer, Washington was a member of the Gospel Wonders, a group that emulated the Alex Bradford Singers in style and sound, and included Calvin White and Archbishop Carl Bean. Disturbed by what he considered to be the seamier side of the gospel highway, Washington departed the Gospel Wonders and went on to direct the choir at St. Mary’s Church of Christ – Disciples. In the mid-1960s, he directed the Northeastern District Choir of the Church of Christ – Disciples, including for a mid-1960s album on HOB Records, and soloed on a couple of the selections. Though the album is not particularly easy to find, the choir’s single, “The Lord is Blessing Me Right Now,” has been anthologized by HOB and by the current licensee of HOB material, Sonorous Entertainment. There’s also a 1979 album by Apostle Washington and the Tabernacle Crusade Choir called Take All My Life Lord.

Mason’s book is eminently readable. It bulges with facts about gospel music and church history, and makes many side turns into topics tangential to the narrative. Endnotes and an index would have helped readers explore further the many dimensions of Washington’s life, which is nothing if not complex. But it’s that complexity that makes the preacher-musician’s life all the more interesting.

With Meet Johnnie Washington, Pastor Mack C. Mason trains his historian’s eye to illustrate how local communities of dedicated and enterprising ministers and evangelists turned Christianity into a pervasive force in modern American life.

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Written by : 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.