Legendary gospel singer Albertina Walker is on Kathy Mitchell’s short list of people who have inspired her.

“In many ways, she reminds me of myself,” Mitchell said. “She wasn’t afraid to let other people shine. Even though her gospel group had her name on it, she moved out of the way to give her background singers a chance to lead. They called her ‘The Star Maker’ because anybody who stayed with her went on to become a successful solo artist.”

Walker, who died in 2010 at the age of 81, and her gospel group, the Caravans, are the focus of The Caravan of Gospel, a musical play written and directed by Mitchell. The audience-participation musical will be presented at 7 p.m. June 29 at the Canton Palace Theater. Proceeds will go to help build an elementary school in Haiti.

The play, a production of Canton-based Rainbow Repertory Company Inc. (co-founded by Mitchell and Lois DiGiacomo-Jacobson) and Firm Foundation Ministry in Ravenna, spotlights Walker and prominent members of the Caravans: the Rev. Shirley Caesar, the Rev. James Cleveland, Dorothy Norwood, Inez Andrews and Cassietta George, a Canton native.

The cast includes the Rev. John B. Wright (as James Cleveland); Psalmist Lucretia Bolden (as Shirley Caesar); Evangelia Grier (as Dorothy Norwood) and recording artists BJ Rice Hubbard (as Cassietta George), Mena Glen (as Inez Andrews), and Roslyn Pratt (as Albertina Walker). Pratt, who performs almost yearly in Spain and Germany, has been singing gospel music since she was 4 years old.

“I love gospel music. It’s what I do because God has anointed me to sing. I take no credit for it,” Pratt said. “Albertina Walker says in the play ‘I didn’t have to sing gospel music. I chose to sing gospel music.’ That resonates with me because I, too, chose to take the stand of Jesus Christ by singing the gospel. [I] want to show her in the great light that she deserves and do her legacy justice.”

Dubbed the “Queen of Gospel,” Walker began singing in the children’s choir at her Chicago church, West Point Baptist. She went on to become a protégé of Mahalia Jackson and formed the Caravans in 1951. Their first big hit, Mary Don’t You Weep, helped make them the most popular gospel group in the United States. The Caravans recorded a string of hits in the 1950s and 1960s.

Walker retired from touring in the late 1960s. She returned in the 1970s, performing as a solo artist with a variety of church choirs as her backup. She released her first solo album, Put a Little Love in Your Heart, in 1975. After that, she released 50 more albums.

In 1995, Walker won a Grammy Award for the Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album. She was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 2001 and honored for her contribution to gospel music by President George W. Bush during a White House ceremony in 2002.

Although most of the musical’s performers were familiar with Walker’s accomplishments before starting rehearsals, the youngest member of the cast, Kaylah Armstead, 15, had only heard her name.

“I’ve learned a lot about her great contributions to gospel music,” said Kaylah, a student at GlenOak High School and a Canton Idol winner. “This whole experience has been wonderful. It is an honor to be a teenager and singing with all these people with amazing voices.”

Kaylah, one of the top 100 contestants competing in this summer’s Ohio Idol, aspires to be a professional gospel singer. She has been performing for live audiences since she was 9 years old. She and Pratt agree that their commitment to gospel music is rooted in its ability to share the word of God.

“Gospel music is just that — the word of God in song. Even though I’m acting in the musical, I’m not playing when it comes to the music,” Pratt said. “One thing about the anointing is that it moves the hearts of men. You can’t fake it. Gospel stirs the soul and my hope is that everyone in the production will be moved, so that the words of the songs will penetrate the hearts of those in the audience.”

Mitchell, a minister at Firm Foundation Ministry, said while the overall goal of the musical is to share the gospel message, she also wants it to educate people about the traditional gospel music genre.

“It is a lost art. People have moved more to contemporary gospel, so this is an opportunity to introduce some to the traditional music, while telling the story of legend who helped launch the careers of so many other gospel artists,” Mitchell said. “The bonus is that the proceeds from ticket sales will go to help build a much-needed elementary school in Haiti.”

Mitchell and other members of Firm Foundation Ministry have supported mission work in Haiti for more than 20 years, helping to build an orphanage and school in Petionville and Jacmel. Portions of the school in Jacmel were destroyed in the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Plans for the construction of a new elementary school include a medical clinic.

The New Life Gospel Choir from Haiti will also participate in the musical. The choir will perform in concert at 6 p.m. June 30 at St. Stephen Martyr Lutheran Church, 4600 Fulton Drive NW, Jackson Township. Admission is $20, with proceeds going to the Haitian elementary school construction.

Tickets for The Caravan of Gospel are $20 and available at Berean Christian Store, 1100 30th St. NW; Joy of Life Boutique, 110 12th St. NW, and the Palace Theatre Box Office, 605 Market Ave. N. Group discounts are available by calling 330-456-7397.

For more information about Albertina Walker, visit More information about Rainbow Repertory and Firm Foundation Ministry can be found at and

article courtesy of

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