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Musician and promoter Ralph Weekes dies aged 39
Ralph Weekes, highly respected Black Gospel musician and promoter, died of cancer last November. A visionary impresario, he saw gospel music move from siege culture survival to mass media exposure. Born in 1952 in Barbados, Ralph came to London in 1961, a wide-eyed nine year old.
Whilst at school he met Bazil Meade, now the leader of LCGC, and Carl Booth, purportedly on the cricket field! From his Shiloh Church In Dalston, East London, these friends formed the seminal Children Of The Kingdom, better known as the CK Band. Playing originally at church weddings and functions, they developed a music which Viv Broughton in his book 'Black Gospel' 'described as 'absorbing Andrae Crouch with reggae and some pretty adventurous lyrics.' This sound took the CK Band out of their church and into the uncharted territory of white-led churches. Juliet Fletcher outlines the significance of this: "At that time, interaction between black and white-led churches was almost unknown. For their first three or four years, the band played mainly to white church audiences on the Christian rock circuit. They were the only band at the time from a traditional black church doing this." Ralph and the band spent two years full-time on the road, between 1978 and 1980, performing mainly in Europe. Ralph's vision was wider than the band as Juliet continues: "Ralph was alert to the issues facing UK gospel music. His maturity and sensitive approach made a lot of difference to his acceptance by his church. He turned the CK Band into a management team called Pure Gospel, which was responsible for the first contemporary UK gospel tour. That was closely followed by the first tour of Britain by a contemporary American gospel artist.' Danniebelle Hall came to the UK in 1979 and was followed by the Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1981 and by Andrae Crouch. Ralph also ran Christians In Action, a mission and outreach organisation. Juliet recalls: 'His passion for mission never waned, even through his time of illness, and the results have outlived him."
Ralph formed a record company called Bebop Till You Drop, who stimulated a lot of grass roots musicians. They produced a single for Clarity, whose singer Simon Wallace, later formed the Angelical Voice Choir. Phonogram's recent signing, Brian Powell also recorded his first demo for Bebop.
Juliet Fletcher pays final tribute to this practical pioneering visionary. "In a relatively short time, Ralph Weekes made an indelible mark on Britain's gospel music map. His friendly, easygoing manner and ready smile enamoured him to people and he developed a great team of people around him. Never one to blow his own trumpet, he was truly as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove."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.