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!)


  1. LaRee Hodge August 3, 2023 at 8:28 am - Reply

    Kenneth was my music director starting in 1975.
    He was a highly successful musician composer and director. He will truly be missed

  2. Debra Adisa August 3, 2023 at 9:52 am - Reply

    Mr. Woods was a teacher that cared about his students. I was a student of his for 4 years and got an A all 4 years! I didn’t study for my college classes for 3 years because Mr. Woods taught on college level! During Mr. Woods’ final months, I visited him and told him how thankful I was to be under his teachings!

    He will truly be missed! What a wonderful teacher!!!!

  3. Debra Adisa August 3, 2023 at 9:53 am - Reply

    My mentor and friend has passed on! I will always remember this man!

  4. Turner Nicole August 3, 2023 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Mr. Woods was my mentor. I thank him for allowing me to be one of his drummers for the Bethesdan Choir until I graduate from HighSchool in 93. So glad I got a chance to see and talk to him one last time. Love you forever Kenneth Woods Jr

  5. Pheobe C Sutton August 3, 2023 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    Maestro & Music Enthusiast:
    Mr. Kenneth Woods, Jr., you taught me so much that there was to know about music especially the proper way to use the diaphragm to breathe and hit those 1st soprano notes! I love you and will miss you😥❤🙏

  6. Natalie Williams August 3, 2023 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    Correction Mr Woods was my Vocal teacher his first year was 1973 at Chicago Vocational Vocademic. I sang with him from then until 1975. Then sang with him at Bethesda Baptist Church with Rev. Lincoln James as Pastor. I remember our CVS gospel choir accompanying Sallie Martin in a song. Mr Woods had the best memory. I recently spoke to him, and he remembered my mother asking about her. I loved him so much. I live in Cincinnati now, all I wanted to do was hold his hand . I thank God I was able to speak to him recently. I thank God for sharing Mr Kenneth Woods Jr. with all of us. Rest now Mr. Woods your great work is greatly complete here on earth.

  7. Howard Hendrix August 3, 2023 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    Mr. Woods was actually at CVS in 1973 when I came. He would be my music teacher and friend for fifty years. I was with him when he started the Bethesdans and will miss him . He was one of a kind.

  8. susan motley August 3, 2023 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Kenneth Woods Jr, you will be missed. RIP maestro.

  9. Cheryl Cash August 4, 2023 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Such a talented and kind-hearted man! I was blessed and honored for Kenneth Woods to play for our wedding! (April 24, 1977). What a blessing that was! His heart was so big and humble!
    You and all that you have offered this world with your wonderful talents, will be missed! You were a great man shining your light among people, everywhere you went! Thank you, Sir!
    Mrs. Cheryl Cash,

  10. Natalie Williams August 8, 2023 at 6:17 am - Reply

    Thank you so much making the correction ❤️ Rest in heavenly peace Mr Woods❤️

  11. Gwen Knox Jones August 15, 2023 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    Mr. Woods was my teacher and mentor for 4years in the vocal department. Because of him I have been able to read, write, and compose music with a profound sense of appreciation . Thank you Mr. Woods. Job well done now rest in peace.

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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.