All this month we have been celebrating our contributions to music..Today we shine the spotlight on The Late Brother Joe Mays:

Born Joseph May in Macon, Mississippi, he was raised as a member of the Church of God[disambiguation needed] denomination in which all males are referred to as “Brother”. He sang with the Little Church Out on the Hills’ senior choir and then the Church of God Quartet, building a reputation on the Southern gospel circuit. He worked as a laborer in Macon, before moving in 1941 with his wife Viola and their children to East St. Louis, Illinois, where he was employed in a chemical plant.

In St. Louis, he met and came under the influence of the singer Willie Mae Ford Smith, and adopted much of her phrasing and performing style. He began singing at Thomas A. Dorsey‘s National Conventions of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, directed by Smith, and after a performance in Los Angeles in 1949 was signed by talent scout J. W. Alexander to Specialty Records. His first record, “Search Me Lord”, became a gospel hit, and was estimated to have sold over one million copies though without reaching any of the published record charts of the day. His follow-up record, “Do You Know Him?” in 1950, was equally successful, and May became a full-time musician, touring nationally with gospel groups such as the Soul Stirrers and the Pilgrim Travelers. He also sang duets with Willie Mae Ford Smith, and usually performed in a distinctive long white robe with a rope cross.

As one of the Specialty label’s most successful artists, the company tried to persuade him to record more secular material, but May refused, although he acknowledged blues singer Bessie Smith as a major influence. His records often used an organ-dominated rhythm section as well as a full choir, and he was sometimes described as a male equivalent of Mahalia Jackson, with whom he sometimes performed. He was cited as a musical inspiration by Little Richard


He continued to perform widely in the Southern states despite health problems, and recorded a series of gospel albums for the Nashboro label through the 1960s and early 1970s.[5] On his way to a performance in Thomasville, Georgia, he suffered a massive stroke, and died in 1972 at the age of 59.[1]

In 2000, he was posthumously inducted into the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame in Detroit

Bio courtesy of

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