In Memoriam

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Monday 1st December 1997

Rev Donald Vails passes away

RECORDING artist and National Minister of Music for the Gospel Workshop of America, the Rev Donald Vails, died September 10th, aged 49 after a long illness. Vails recorded numerous albums for Savoy Records. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

Reader Comments

Posted by Starry L. Carter in Detroit @ 10:22 on Oct 5 2017

I too was a member of operation love under the direction of Ed Smith, Donald Vail was a minister of music I traveled out of town for the first time of my life to Dallas Texas as a member of the choir. It was a beautiful experience knowing brother Ed Smith and his family. I dated his daughter Kim Smith for a while. The Smith family was the greatest,they treated me like I was there own.

Posted by Karl in Detroit @ 19:05 on Mar 25 2015

When I first met Donald I was about 13-14. He was about I'd say 4-5 years older. He was a good friend of our minister music Percy Hall, We went to New Mt Moriah Baptist Church in Detroit which at that time was on Blaine and Linwood. He had not that long ago started the Choraleers and every 4th Sunday they had a musical at out church inviting different choirs. That was my introduction to to 'real gospel music"

The choraleers sang "Ive decided to make Jesus My choice" at the first musical I went to. They sang with such spirit and passion that I literally ran home (about 4 blocks away) while they were yet singing, called may father and told him I wanted Jesus in my life. My father prayed for me and while I already believed, I had never dedicated my life to Christ. That night, because of Donald Vails and the choraleers my life changed . Its a moment that I have relived over and over again that I will never forget.

I wasn't old enough to be in the choraleers, but it didnt matter because Donald announced he was starting Operation Love , a group for teenagers and they rehearsed at our church. When I joined Operation Love there were about 20 members it grew to way of 300 young people.

I lived for Sundays after meeting Donald. I was was an out cold gospel music fan. Detroit was hot in those days. People always talk about Detroit and Motown , Supremes and the Temptations. But if you were into gospel music back in those days we had Donald Vails, Thomas Whitfield, Lucille Lemon, Dorothy Grant, Beverly Glenn, CYE ,Harold Smith, John Ebherhart, Burnette Baptist, Holy Cross, The Craig Brothers and so so many more. We saw them for free in musicals and in concert sometimes for $10,

It is now the year 2015, and 45 years later. Im 60, I pastor a church and a huge part of that is because of the conviction Donald's group sang with that night. Those days will never be forgotten by so many of us. Thank you Jesus for sending Donald our way

Reply by Theresa Hunter in Fort Worth, TX @ 14:08 on Jul 12 2017

Karl, I remember Donald Veils he was our choir director
at New Light Baptist Church. I was about your age. At
that time I didn't realize how great he was.

[report abuse]

Posted by Rita Coker in Austell, Ga @ 16:31 on Mar 9 2015

I met Donald one Sunday morning in Washington, DC. He came to preach. I was in the choir and he heard my voice. He said who is that. We met after church and talked and talked. I sang classical and he taught me gospel. He said he had a community choir called Salvation Corporation. I had to audition, Carlton Burgess played the piano. I spent years with him and enjoyed him so much and his style that I joined Ebenezer AME Church to sing in the 1,000 voice music department. On Saturdays he taught a group of children 5 to 18 to sing. There were so many children, but to sing in his choir they had to have good grades. They brought their report cards. They were called Capitol City Youth Choir. It was amazing to me that one man could direct about 10 choirs each week in the Community and Church. and still attend Howard University as a student. The joy of the DC area was when he would have a Music Class with the best musicians in the country called Music is my Ministry. Wow. 100's of different church musicians and singers attended. I miss him so much.

Posted by sherrie k. in Atlanta, Georgia @ 05:50 on Mar 3 2015

I did not know him, but I was blessed tremendously by his music. When I hear it now, it's still a blessing. I thank God for sending him and allowing him to minister to all of us.

Posted by Dea. A.H.Gregory in Honolulu, HI @ 19:46 on Feb 11 2015

Whenever I hear Min Vails and the Voices of Deliverance Choir sing, "I Want To Be A Follower of Christ", I still break into tears. That is one of the first Gospel records I ever owned when I was waffling about giving my life to Him!

Posted by Carl D. Larkin in memphis, TN @ 01:52 on Nov 27 2014

Donald was truly anointed with a musical talent only given by the creator. I had the pleasure to sing and direct the Voices of Deliverance, and I learned so much from him. In spite what people thought or said about the mistro, you could not take away from his gift GOD had given him. Donald and I became good friends and we spoke often after I moved from Detroit. I often think of his memory and miss his BIG smile and BIG glasses (lol). I never judged him nor thought ill of him. He was a GREAT man to many ... and that's more that could be said for a lot of us.Rest well my friend and I pray that we meet in Heaven singing in that awesome angelic choir.

Reply by L.D. Sykes in Montgomery, Ala & Indy @ 00:56 on Dec 20 2014

I just was sing.. "Since I Met Jesus"...Donald & I met in Indy in the late 70's..He was so much fun to be with..
After I moved to Montgomery... I surprised him when he came to town... and it was just like we had seen each other the week before..He is truly missed..

[report abuse]

Posted by N McLeod in Ft. Washington, MD @ 16:22 on Nov 17 2014

I met Donald Vails later in life, however I am blessed to have known him and his music. He ran the music department at Ebenzer AME in Fort Washington, MD. His music to this day moves me and keeps me in positive spirits. I wanted let his family and friends know that although he may not be with us, his music, his love and spirit lives on as an inspiration to millions, myself included.

Posted by Bettye Yancey Thomas in Atlanta, GA @ 02:37 on Oct 16 2014

I first met Rev. Donald Vails in Sunday School at Second Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. He was 10years old and I was 8. All of us looked up to him because he played for Sunday School and kind of made attending fun. When he was promoted to Junior Class all of us were upset that we had lost our friend. I remember Mrs. Smith comforting us by saying he's not dead he just going to an older group you all will get over there soon enough. He played for all of our Programs and taught us our songs. As Teens we all still, enjoyed attending Vacation Bible School.
We all grew up and went our separate ways but we always remembered those Friendships of our Youth.
Each Year up until the Year before he Passed he came to Atlanta for my Choirs Anniversary at Tabernacle Baptist Church- The Voices of Tabernacle. I attended his Funeral and for some reason today he has been in my Spirit. Gone ole friend but always Remembered!

Posted by Henry McClendon, Jr. in Detroit, MI @ 04:07 on May 18 2014

I was honored to be one of the 300 members of the Operation Love Children's Choir that met in a building on the corner of State Fair and Helen in Detroit, MI. Ed Smith managed our group and Donald Vails was our musician and director. I was always amazed at what he could do with a Hammon organ, his vocal range, and his gift for teaching music. I appreciated him, and was honored to have known him. I look forward to seeing and hearing him again in glory!

Posted by Donna J. Byrd in Detroit/Lincoln Park, MI @ 22:55 on Jan 22 2014

I first heard Donald when he was playing at New Grace in Highland Park, MI. Shortly thereafter, I started attending New Light Baptist Church and it was something about the music that sounded so familiar, only to meet Donald, the late David Ball both through my late best friend, Cornell E. Talley, Jr. did I find out that Donald had been at New Grace prior to coming to New Light where the Choraleers were founded in the basement of New Light. Those were the days! Donald, Cornell, David, James Allen, and many more became my new family after moving here from Cincinnati, Oho in 1969. My relationship with Donald was just a continuation in Gospel Music which started with my mother, the late Mildred B. Marshall- Byrd who played the piano & organ at the First Baptist Church of Hazelwood for 65 uninterrupted years until God called her home in 2002. Along with the late-great Charles Fold, Harold Smith, and many more, my life has been blessed with some of God's greatest musicians/maestoes; I miss all of you dearly. See you in the Rapture. Donald, I can still hear your "stomp!"

Reply by Willa Dudley-Wells in Santa Monica, California @ 18:51 on Feb 28 2017

Your comment made me remember all the wonderful times me and my family spent at New Light Baptist. My brother sang in the choir under Donald's direction and it just so happened we lived on Nardin Park. During this time Rev. Talley Sr. Was Pastor. Continued blessings my friend.

[report abuse]

Reply by Montisa in Warren @ 22:27 on Oct 28 2015

I remember listening to David Ball song How Great Thou Art. I don't think I was even 5 years old but his voice still resonates in my spirit. My mom attended Christian Community over on the westside in the early 70's and that's how I learned about Donald Vails. My mom was friends with David Ball and Cornell Talley. It's great to hear those often forgotten names with such large voices! Thank you for sharing your memory!

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