Mighty Clouds of Joy
THE MIGHTY CLOUDS Of JOY was the first Gospel group ever to perform on "Soul Train." "We were very nervous that the public wouldn’t understand our Soul Train performance," says lead singer Joe Ligon. "When our disco hit ‘Mighty High’ was played, we were shocked at the reaction of the kids dancing." Joe adds, "We were ahead of our time. Now it’s one of our most requested songs. The diehard Gospel fans gave us flak like you wouldn’t believe. It wasn’t churchy enough for them. They said we’d sold out and gone funky."
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But THE CLOUDS stuck to their guns, and soon were taking Gospel to places it seldom, if ever, had been. Over the years, they have been nominated for eleven Grammy Awards winning three of them. During their career, they have shared the stage with the likes of Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Rolling Stones, Gene Autry, Patti Labelle, Smokey Robinson, Luther Vandross, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Richard Pryor, Natalie Cole, Bobby Blue Bland, Anthony Quinn, Al Green Sidney Pottier, Lou Rawls, Nina Simone, Don Rickles, Minnie Ripperton, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon whom they backed for a month at New York’s Madison Square Garden. They have also appeared with some of the greatest Gospel singers ever to perform – Rev. James Cleveland, Shirley Caesar, the Blind Boys, the Caravans, Rev. C.L. Franklin, the Hawkins Family, the Soul Stirrers, the Clark Sisters, Andrea Crouch, the Dixie Hummingbirds, and the Winans.
PRESIDENTS & LUMINARIES
They have made appearances before both Presidents Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon and on closed circuit television with President Richard Nixon and Senator Hubert Humphrey. They participated in the State of Texas’ 150-year celebration, the Sesquicentennial of Texas with Sandy Duncan, Freddie Fender, Dallas Cowboy’s coach Tom Landry, Roger Staubach and Magic Johnson. They continue to play some of the most prestigious venues in the world - Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and the Astro Dome, to name a few.
THE CLOUDS hold the distinction of being the most visible Gospel act in history, performing on nearly every major television show in America, including "The Grammy Awards," "The Stellar Awards," "CBS Network Special," "Prime Time Country," "PBS Special," "The Johnny Cash Show," "Mike Douglas Show," "Merv Griffin Show," "Lou Rawls Parade of Stars," "Jerry Lewis Telethon," and the "Arsenio Hall Show" and also starring in a full-length feature movie, "Gospel."
Throughout their incredible career, THE CLOUDS have travel all over the world performing in Africa, Japan, England, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, France, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Canada along with crossing the United States many times each year.
IN THE BEGINNING & NOW
'THE CLOUDS’ current line-up includes Joe Ligon and Richard Wallace, original members of the group together since 1960, along with Johnny Valentine, Ron Staples and Michael Cook.
Joe Ligon, the group’s leader, was born in Troy, Alabama, where he lived until his early teens. Born with a natural singing talent, he was too shy to perform in public, preferring to vocalize only around the house and in the fields. When a group of his singing cousins asked him to join them, it was Joe’s mother who insisted he agree, unknowingly launching one of the greatest careers in Gospel music.
Joe, at age 14, headed west to Los Angeles for a visit with an uncle that turned into a long-term residence. His uncle, by prior agreement with his mother, re-enrolled the youngster in school, where he soon met other boys who shared his gift for song, including the now-deceased CLOUD, Johnny Martin. They were taken under his wing and tutored in the art of four-part Gospel harmony by a neighbor who saw the boys’ potential. The man took a fatherly liking to the youngsters, and they formed a foursome, singing in the neighborhood and throughout the Southwest for four years.
Still in their late teens, the group was heard by a local Gospel deejay who produced the first, rudimentary recordings of the group, which he sent to Peacock Records, home to the Blind Boys, the Nightingales and the Dixie Hummingbirds, among other classic Gospel acts of the day. Sensing something fresh and unique in THE CLOUDS, Peacock was quick to sign them, and their first single in 1960, "Steal Away to Jesus," was followed in 1961 by their debut album, Family Circle.
"The president of Peacock liked ‘Steal Away to Jesus,’" remembers Joe, "but he wanted me to add something to make it longer. I’d been listening to the Reverend C.L. Franklin on the radio for years, so I did this preaching kind of thing in his style to go along with our singing. That was different from what anybody else was doing, and it became our trademark."
GOSPEL IS SHOW BUSINESS ENTERTAINMENT
Overflowing with energy on stage, THE MIGHTY CLOUDS OF JOY were one of the first quartets to incorporate movement and choreography into their act. With matching, brightly color-coordinated outfits, THE CLOUDS coupled a new level of showmanship with their ministry, even becoming known as "the Temptations of Gospel."
Since the group formed in 1955 and first began recording in 1960, THE MIGHTY CLOUDS OF JOY have endured many musical trends. They were the first to add bass, drums and keyboards to the traditional quartet accompaniment of solo electric guitar. Though more traditional members of Gospel audiences were critical, THE CLOUDS stuck to their commitment to be different from the pack, and they reigned supreme. More innovations causing controversy followed for some time to come. "The lyrics were always a very strong Gospel message," says Joe, "but the music was a long way from ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’" and the "funkified" Gospel they had pioneered gradually became accepted as a standard part of Gospel music.
After over 40 years singing the Gospel, THE MIGHTY CLOUDS OF JOY still have the power to excite and inspire their ever-increasing following. "We see ourselves as singers who minister to the people and encourage them that the Lord is real and there for us, and that commitment has only grown stronger over the years," says Joe. "People today seem hungry for much more than entertainment. With all the terrible things happening in the world now, their souls are looking for nourishment ... for something to believe in. That spark that only the Holy Spirit can give you is still burning strong in us," Joe concludes. "If we ever lost that, we might as well pack it in and go home."
On January 26, 1996, Quartet music supporters gathered in Birmingham, Alabama for the Fourth Annual American Gospel Convention Awards Night and Hall of Fame Inductions and Joe Ligon was inducted and presented The Key To The City Of Birmingham.
On April 21, 1999, THE CLOUDS became only the second Black Quartet ever to be inducted into The Gospel Music Hall of Fame along with Rev. Billy Graham, Bill Gaither and the Cathedrals. This was only the most recent accolade to an unbelievably illustrious career that shows no signs of slowing down as it continues to go forward into the new millennium.
The group’s newest recording Grammy nominated, It Was You, is on the Patinum/CGI label. Joe Ligon is excited. He leans a little forward as if to tell a secret, "I sang this record like it was my first." His enthusiasm for It Was You lies in the way that this record was produced. It was no stretch for THE MIGHTY CLOUDS OF JOY to reach out to some of the major producer’s in today’s contemporary music ranks. Fred Hammond, Steven Ford, J. Moss and Paul Allen of P.A.J.A.M. along with William Becton combing their talents with those of Joe Ligon to fuse this most influential Gospel quartet with today’s undeniable music sound.
It’s the group’s "song for everybody" approach that gives emphasis to the statement, "There are different flavors of songs for different people". For the most devoted MIGHTY CLOUDS fans, Joe took the group to Doppler Studios in Atlanta to cut three songs. The message of the Gospel delivered in the CLOUDS powerful, traditional way has not been lost in the means by which it is presented. In fact, it is that very means the THE MIGHTY CLOUDS OF JOY have determined will continue to allow a wider audience to hear the message.
THE MIGHTY CLOUDS OF JOY have made a career out of the simple act of reaching people through the Gospel. While progressive in sound, their core beliefs shine through to any audience. It Was You is not progressive. It is necessary. It is the fusion of what is hip and what is real to what is relevant.
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