|Birth: ||Jan. 23, 1927|
|Death: ||Feb. 15, 1978|
New Jersey, USA
Gospel singer, composer, arranger, choir director. Known for his performance of hits "Too Close to Heaven"," Angel On Vacation", and "Holy Ghost." He has been called "Gospel's Little Richard," arguably the most influential male artist of gospel's post-World War II Golden Age. Remembered as a remarkably versatile showman who helped to popularize gospel music by packaging his extraordinary musical talents in the flashiest and most audacious displays of religious fervor. He grew up listening to the country Blues, gospel quartets, and music in the Holiness church. He exhibited early musical talent, performing on stage at the age of four. He soaked up the performance styles of local showmen like Prophet Jones, and national gospel stars like Arizona Dranes,Mahalia Jackson (whom he later accompanied on piano), and Queen C. Anderson. After graduating from high school and serving in the army during World War II, he moved to Chicago in 1947, where he proceeded to perform both blues and gospel. He honed his singing and composing skills under the tutelage of gospel singers Mahalia Jackson and Roberta Martin. He composed "Since I Met Jesus" and "Let God Abide" for Martin. His first big break came a few years later when Willie Web invited him to join his gospel group and soon after recorded his arrangement of the hymn "Every Day and Every Hour." The encouraging reception of this song inspired him to form his own vocal group, the all-male Bradford Specials. Their first release, "Too Close to Heaven" (1953), was written by Bradford and sold over a million copies. During the 1950s he performed and recorded with luminaries like Sallie Martin, Delois Barrett Campbell, Maceo Woods, and Clara Ward. While Chicago was the epicenter of gospel during this time, he moved to New York City to escape the inhibiting control exerted over the sacred music scene by the city's most established performers. Like older gospel legend Sister Rosetta Tharpe, he disrupted boundaries by performing sacred music in decidedly non-religious settings. His unparalleled flamboyancy and theatricality, which he accentuated through colorful robes and stoles, made some people question whether his primary motivation was religious faith or self-aggrandizement. His second vocal group, the Men of Song, helped to popularize gospel among white audiences by appearing at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival, the Indiana Jazz Festival, and on the Mike Wallace television show. In addition to the sacred compositions for his own group he wrote popular songs for Ray Charles and LaVern Baker and the National Baptist Convention awarded him a trophy as "America's Top Gospel Writer." His distinctive baritone voice, known for its gravelly timbre and wide range, influenced the vocal styling of other well-known singers like Sam Cooke. By 1960 he had moved to New York, New York, where he began to experiment with gospel theater. In 1961 Bradford performed in and wrote music for The Black Nativity, the first of several gospel plays in which he participated. Based on poetry by Langston Hughes and directed by Vinnette Carroll, the play opened in New York and was a smash hit on its European, Asian, and Australian tours. Along with that of the gospel legend Marion Williams. His performance in the play helped to popularize gospel music outside the African American community. The cast also performed for the Dutch, Danish, and British royal families and for many celebrities, like Duke Ellington and the Beatles. When asked about the appropriateness of bringing religious expression into the commercial theater, Bradford, who had become an ordained minister, responded, "The church was in fact the first theater, and theater is an extension of the pulpit. The play came from the church and it was from the church that Satan took the dance. These are the Biblical facts." Over the years he performed at various benefits and church-sponsored events. Some his extravagant musical style symbolized black pride. Months before he died he formed the Creative Movement Repertory Company in Newark, New Jersey, which, offered young African Americans an opportunity to develop their dancing, music, and theatrical skills. He was married twice and had children with his second wife. He remained active in theater until the time of his death. He also directed the Greater Abyssinian Baptist Choir of Newark, New Jersey, and served as minister in three churches. In 1972 he received an Obie Award for his performance in the gospel musical Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope and wrote many of the songs for Vinnette Carroll's Your Arms Too Short To Box with God (1976). His own gospel musical, Don't Cry, Mary, opened shortly before he suffered a stroke, dying two weeks later.
Western Star Cemetery
Created by: Curtis Jackson 🖋...
Record added: Nov 08, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 61284924