By Robert M. Marovich
One of the most passionate and anointed voices in gospel music was stilled this week when Mother Vernon Oliver Price passed away at the age of 93.
Price was born in Chicago on December 1, 1929, one of a total of ten children, and was raised in Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ. As a child, Price sang in a family group comprised of various siblings. At first, the Oliver Family performed at churches around Chicago but eventually extended their reach to nearby states. She also sang in the Roberts Temple choir; her sister Loretta, still living, would join her in the choir later. Price graduated from DuSable High School, where she sang in the school choir.
In 1943, Price joined St. Paul Church of God in Christ, under the leadership of the Reverend (later Bishop) Louis H. Ford. There she sang with the choir and soloed under the direction of Anna Crockett Ford. Since St. Paul’s church services were broadcast over radio, Price’s uncompromising singing could be heard well beyond the confines of the South Side church. The choir even cut a couple of records in the late 1940s for the Los Angeles-based Black & White label. Many years later, Mother Price would assist Anna Crockett Ford in leading the COGIC International Music Department.
Price was a mainstay on the Chicago gospel circuit, singing with the Emma Jackson Singers, who used to rehearse at the same location as beautician Beatrice Lux’s Lux Singers; a young James Cleveland, then with the Lux Singers, sometimes accompanied Emma’s group during rehearsals. Later, Price joined Reverend Milton Brunson and the Thompson Community Singers. Both she and Loretta were members of the Tommies and recorded with the group in the early 1960s for Vee-Jay Records.
The Oliver sisters were welcome vocalists wherever they traveled. Sometimes when one sister was finishing up a solo, the other would join in, unannounced, from the congregation, and they would trade leads on the coda. It would take several minutes for congregants to regain their composure afterward.
Price appeared on TV’s Jubilee Showcase and was the jurisdictional soloist for the COGIC First Jurisdiction of Illinois. Although she had been a featured vocalist on a number of artists’ records, she cut her own single in the 1970s for HOB Records, though she lamented later that the company’s marketing effort on her behalf was so poor that most of the sales came from her selling the disc herself at personal appearances. She also sang on A. R. Leak’s “It’s Time Truth Speaks” radio broadcast and she and Loretta were stalwart members of Dr. Lou Della Evans Reid’s Traditional Choir.
Mother Price married John Haywood Price (John’s sister Jeanette was a member of the Golden Harp Gospel Singers and married the Soul Stirrers’ R. H. Harris). The couple raised several children, including Louis, lead singer of the Temptations from 1977 to 1980 and member of the Drifters in the 1980s. Louis produced his mother’s 2010 independently-released album, Thank You Lord.
If you never heard Mother Vernon Oliver Price sing “It Pays to Serve Jesus,” you haven’t lived. Her singing, her presence, her commitment to traditional gospel music, and her life are emblematic of gospel music. Pastor Mack Mason said that her initials, VOP, also stood for the Voice of Pentecost. That title suits her. One of the last remaining pioneers of gospel music, Mother Vernon Oliver Price lived the life she sang about. I am grateful to have known her.
Home going services have yet to be posted.