Obit of the Day: Gospel Legend Willa Ward
The Famous Ward Singers, sisters Will and Clara Ward, were gospel stars 70 years ago but their influence still lingers today. The group, also called The Ward Trio when including another golden voice of gospel, Marion Williams, radiated an image of glamour not normally associated with Christian music. Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, and other stars of rock and roll and soul music would incorporate the Ward Singers’ distinctive sound into their own music.
Although Willa was the elder sister it was Clara who dominated the group - and eventually earned the larger share of fame*. Willa Ward would leave the Ward Singers in 1958 (the group continued on as the Clara Ward Singers) and began a career in mainstream music which included forming her own group, The Gay Charmers Trio, and singing back up for singers such as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Chubby Checker and Patti LaBelle.
Willa, whose full name was Willarene, died in her hometown of Philadelphia at the age of 91.
Sources: The New York Times and Wikipedia.org
*Clara Ward would be inducted in the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1977 and was honored with a postage stamp in 1998. Clara died in 1973 at the age of 48.
(Screaming Gospel Holy Rollers, Vol. 1 is copyright Vee-Tone Records, 2011. When you listen to the song, it’s like no gospel you’ve ever heard. The entire album is incredible.)