Prof. Alex Bradford

"Singing Rage of the Gospel Age," Professor Alex Bradford, who has been called "Gospel's Little Richard," arguably stands as the most influential male artist of gospel's post-World War II Golden Age. Important as composer ("I'm Too Close to Heaven and I Can't Turn Around"), singer (alternating between a rough, husky chest voice and a falsetto that turned him into a male soprano), stage (and altar) performer, record producer, and group and choir leader, Bradford also pioneered the extension of gospel to secular contexts, particularly with his world tour with Marion Williams in Black Nativity (1960), based on texts by Langston Hughes. He was, rare among important gospel performers, both instrumentalist and vocalist. As choir director of Newark's Abyssinian Baptist Church, he proved a fine talent scout into the bargain, giving a start to, among others, Cissy Houston and the Sweet Inspirations, Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, C and the Shells, and Judy Clay, all of whom went on to have important careers in soul and pop, none of whom ever strayed far from the gospel basis of their singing. Bradford made important recordings on his own, and he wrote hit material for Roberta Martin, Sallie Martin, and Mahalia Jackson, all of whom he also served as accompanist. His Bradford Specials, with whom he made his most important records in the mid-'50s, were the first male group to adopt the innovations brought to gospel by female quartets such as those of Roberta Martin and Clara Ward.