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Inez Andrews, a key voice of gospel’s golden age, dies at 83

Gospel singer Inez Andrews

Gospel singer Inez Andrews

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Updated: December 19, 2012 9:07PM

Inez Andrews, the last of the great traditional gospel singers, has died.

Mrs. Andrews died Wednesday afternoon at her Chicago home from complications of colon cancer. She was 83 years old.

Mrs. Andrews was a member of the Caravans, the most popular gospel group of the 1950s and ’60s. More than 110,000 fans witnessed a 1994 Caravans reunion at the Chicago Gospel Festival in Grant Park. Andrews sang with original members Delores Washington and Shirley Caesar in a salute to Caravans founder Albertina Walker.

The key to the Caravans’ success was the fact that everyone was a soloist. Mrs. Andrews sang with joy and dignity. She was unselfish, giving her contralto to the spirit of a higher power, notably in 1958’s “Mary Don’t You Weep,” one of the most requested Caravans songs.

“The golden age of gospel was from 1945 to 1960,” said New York-based gospel author and record producer Anthony Heilbut, who spoke with Mrs. Andrews a few hours before her death. “Inez was the last one to make a name for herself in that era. Her style was unprecedented. She had this immense range, hitting top notes which most singers hit in falsetto.

“She was a preacher, she was an actress. Shirley Caesar used to say Inez could ‘shout the people preaching flatfooted.’ She had a lot of showmanship.”

Ms. Andrews was born April 14, 1929, in Birmingham, Ala.

She sang with Dorothy Love Coates and the Original Gospel Harmonettes in Birmingham. The Harmonettes’ spirituals were a template for Chicago’s Staple Singers. Mrs. Andrews was a member of the Caravans from 1957 to 1962. The singers were so in sync they created their own language:

“The stick is still sweeping” meant Caesar and Mrs. Andrews were worry free.

“You talk about flowery beds of ease” translated into someone coasting.

Mrs. Andrews had her own solo crossover hit with the blues-tinged “Lord Don’t Move the Mountain.” Chicago blues legend Koko Taylor requested that Mrs. Andrews sing at her funeral.

Mrs. Andrews was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 2002. Her favorite gospel song was “Don’t Let the Devil Ride,” by Bishop Neal Roberson and recently covered by Aaron Neville.

Mrs. Andrews is survived by daughters Legretta, Gail and Sue, and sons Wendell Jr., Mark and Casey. Her son Richard Gibbs played piano on Mavis Staples’ 2004 album “Have a Little Faith” and is currently on tour with Aretha Franklin. She is also survived by 19 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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