By Robert M. Marovich
The Journal of Gospel Music was saddened to learn from gospel artist Dr. Kevin Bond of the passing of Kenneth Woods Jr.
Mr. Woods, as he is known affectionately by his former students, transitioned from labor to reward this morning, August 2, 2023. He was 94.
Woods was born on March 8, 1929, in Indianapolis, Indiana, and began his gospel music career in September 1943, when he met Beatrice Brown. At the time, Brown, also of Indianapolis, was the national supervisor for the Youth Department for the National Gospel Convention of Choirs and Choruses. She thought Woods played the piano so well that she invited him to join her gospel group, Brown’s Inspirational Singers (pictured above, ca. 1950 – Woods is at the piano). Della Reese and Wynona Carr sang with Brown’s ensemble from time to time. Woods was also assistant accompanist for the NCGCC Youth Department.
Woods first met Sallie Martin, whom he would go on to accompany, in 1944. In the meantime, he served in the military during the Korean War and after his discharge, accompanied Brother Joe May on the road. Abandoned by May after a 1955 Chicago gig, Woods decided to stay in the city. Soon thereafter, Sallie Martin asked Woods to be her accompanist. He worked with Martin from 1955 to 1975, during which time he was part of the Sallie Martin Singers aggregation and also organized the Knowles & Jackson Sextette. Both groups recorded for Vee-Jay Records, where Woods also wrote out lead sheets for the label’s secular and sacred artists.
In 1973, Woods became a music teacher at Chicago Vocational High School. He also served in the music department at Greater Bethesda Baptist Church and helped score and arrange music for numerous artists. Mahalia Jackson was among the artists he accompanied during his career.
Until his recent illness, Woods was physically and mentally vibrant. He enjoyed dining with friends, working out, and playing keyboards. He had a remarkable ability to remember dates and addresses from decades ago.
Home going details are forthcoming. In the meantime, JGM asks you to pray for the family, friends, former students, and many fans of Mr. Woods. He was a friend of mine and I will miss him.
(NOTE: Mr. Woods’ start date at CVS was changed from 1975 to 1973. Thanks for catching that, readers!)