JGM is saddened to report that Cleave Graham, the last original member of the Pilgrim Jubilees gospel quartet, passed away this week.

Here is a brief bio of Cleave and the Jubes, based on an essay I wrote for the Malaco Music Group website some years ago:

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Cleave Graham was born one of thirteen children to Columbus and Josie Chandler Graham in Houston, Mississippi, on January 8, 1928. Formed in 1944 in Houston, Mississippi, the Pilgrim Jubilee Singers (later shortened to the Pilgrim Jubilees, or the “Jubes”) began as a family quartet consisting of brothers Theophilus “Hoppy” Graham and Elgie C. B. Graham, cousin Monroe Hatchett and cousins-in-law Willis Johnson and Alfred Brownlee. The group sang at the family’s home church, New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, and other local venues.

The Jubes disbanded briefly in 1947 when Hoppy migrated to Chicago, but he reassembled the quartet in 1950 when Elgie, Cleave, and Monroe joined him up North. They added fellow Mississippian Major Roberson, formerly of the Pilgrim Harmonizers; Robertson was a songwriter who became the group’s booking manager. As soon as he was old enough, younger brother Clay Graham became a member.

The Jubes’ first record, a self-financed single on Chance Records in 1953, gave them product to sell at programs and pitch to radio. They strengthened their local visibility further by splitting the cost of a fifteen-minute program on radio station WSBC with the Spiritual Five quartet.

In 1955, R. H. Harris, the Soul Stirrers’ lead singer and president of the Chicago Quartet Union, gave the Jubes their first national exposure when he selected them to represent Illinois at the National Quartet Convention in Oakland. There, another Soul Stirrer, S. R. Crain, introduced the men to Art Rupe of Specialty Records. The Jubes cut a few songs for Specialty but none were released at the time, mainly because the Pilgrim Travelers, one of Specialty’s top-selling gospel artists, was concerned the groups’ similar names would confuse listeners.

Their radio friends, the Spiritual Five, brought the Jubes to Nashboro Records. The Jubes’ 1959 Nashboro disc, “River Of Jordan” b/w “Father, I’m Coming Home,” featuring Cleave on lead vocal, inspired Edna Gallmon Cooke’s manager Barney Parks to hire them to complete a series of scheduled bookings that an ailing Cooke could not fulfill. The disc also impressed A&R man Dave Clark. He persuaded the Jubes to sign with Peacock Records.

During their years with Peacock (1959-75), the Jubes hit their stride. In particular, they introduced two elements that became emblematic of their sound: substitution of the bass guitar for the bass voice (“Stretch Out”) and Clay’s use of sermonettes, or brief morality stories, to introduce an old hymn or new song (“True Story”). Additional Peacock hits included “Wonderful,” “Old Ship of Zion,” “Steal Away,” and the two-part “A Child’s Blood.”

The Jubes returned to Nashboro briefly from 1976-80, cutting Homecoming: Recorded Live in Chicago in 1979. Capturing the quartet in program at Dunbar High School, Homecoming was the first of many live albums to follow.

In 1980, the Jubes signed with Savoy Records. By now one of the most popular quartets in the nation, the Jubes—now comprised of Clay and Cleave Graham, Roberson and Ben Chandler—recorded one album a year for Savoy until 1984. Three years later, they debuted what would become a longstanding association with Malaco with Gospel Roots. The album featured a Clay sermonette called “Barnyard” and a new version of “Old Ship of Zion.” Nearly every Malaco album, in fact, carried a Clay sermonette. For example, “Little Willie” graced the 1989 album Back to Basics, while 1991’s Family Affair introduced “True Story” to a new generation of listeners.

The 1990 Malaco release Live From Jackson, Mississippi and 1993’s In Revival featured some of the Jubes’ most popular songs sung in front of appreciative audiences. The latter was recorded at a live program held in their birthplace of Houston, Mississippi. Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around (1995) was another live CD of new and old favorites, this time recorded at Birmingham’s Alabama Theater for the Performing Arts. No less than five Malaco albums made the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart.

The Jubes were the first gospel quartet to be the subject of a full-length biography. Written by New Zealander Alan Young, The Pilgrim Jubilees was published in 2001 by the University Press of Mississippi. It remains an essential title on gospel music history.

The new millennium saw the Jubes release more Malaco albums: Were You There (2000), The Year of Jubilee (2003) and Jesus Got Me Off (2007). It also witnessed the Jubes’ induction into the American Gospel Quartet Convention Hall of Fame (2001).

Major Roberson passed away in 2010 and Clay Graham in 2018. JGM extends its condolences to the family, friends, and many fans of Cleave Graham.


  1. Carl Lee Stephens , of The Henley Bros of Fayetteville, NC 🙏🙏 June 19, 2024 at 6:06 pm - Reply

    One of my favorite quartets ever! I sang with The Henley Bros of Fayetteville , NC , and we sang / opened for the Jubes many times! From South Carolina , traveling north all the way to Baltimore , New Jersey etc. Not only could they sing , but they were the nicest group of men on the gospel circuit! May God bless, comfort , and keep the Graham Family 🙏🙏

  2. Elaine V. Harrell June 23, 2024 at 9:51 pm - Reply

    I met the Jules in 1982 in Montgomery Alabama they was very good gospel singer. They was our favorite group my nephew wanted to sing the song Cleve sang Church Song so Inwrote the song down so my nephew could sing the song in our church So I say Jubes touch every life with there gospel singing RIP Cleve. My PRAYERS TO THE GRAHEM FAMILY🙏🏻🙏🏻😇👰🏾🎆🛐

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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.