By Robert M. Marovich

What can you say about a woman who sang with the Reverend James Cleveland, portrayed Evillene in The Wiz, and starred in a comedy film with Martin Lawrence?

Ella Mitchell was all of those things and more. Anthony Heilbut and Eric Maurice Clark informed the Journal of Gospel Music that Ms. Mitchell passed away.

Mitchell was born in Ahoskie, North Carolina, but her family moved to New York when she was just an infant. She first sang with the family group the Mitchellaires and later with Kitty Parham and Prof. Charles Taylor as a gospel trio. As the group began to receive invitations to sing around the New York area, Mitchell’s mother gave them a name: the Gospel All-Stars. “We were one of the first gospel groups to do the Apollo Theater, with Charles Taylor,” Mitchell told me during an interview. After Taylor and Parham departed the group, Mitchell brought in new members Dorothy Crookshank and Rose Hines.

The Gospel All-Stars were so well liked that both Alex Bradford and James Cleveland approached them to serve as their background singers. At the time, Cleveland was directing the choir at Faith Temple COGIC, under the leadership of Bishop A. A. Childs. Cleveland loved their sound and said, “Ella, you all don’t need to go with Bradford. You don’t need to with nobody. You all are dynamite by yourselves.” The group decided to work with Cleveland and recorded a number of singles (including “Meeting Tonight”) and an album with him. Imogene Greene, a friend of Cleveland’s from Chicago, sang with the group very briefly. Other members of the Gospel All-Stars in later years included Dorothy Lavan, Delores Haynes, and Reginald Bryant.

Ms. Mitchell was also an accomplished actor. She portrayed Evillene in The Wiz when it was in California and in the role during the show’s Broadway revival. She appeared in the 2000 film Big Mamma’s House starting Martin Lawrence and Nia Long. She worked with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for more than thirty years.

We extend our sympathies to the family, friends, and many fans of Ella Mitchell.

Homegoing information can be found here: Ella Mitchell.

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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.