Jazz and gospel great James Cleveland dead at 64

CULVER CITY, Calif -- The Rev. James Cleveland, a Grammy-winning trombone player and composer often called the 'King of Gospel,' died Saturday. He was 64.

Cleveland died at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, a hospital spokeswoman said. The hospital declined to reveal the cause of death, but Cleveland had been suffering from respiratory ailments in recent years.


Cleveland was born May 3, 1926, in Wartrace, Tenn. An alumnus of the Lionel Hampton and Quincy Jones bands, Cleveland extended his work to commercial television and recording, first in New York City in the mid- and late-1960s, and then in California.

He was a member of the regular band on the Della Reese, Pearl Bailey, Bill Cosby, Music Scene and Merv Griffin shows.

All the while, Cleveland continued to play jazz and appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Newport Jazz Festival and several shows in Hollywood and elsewhere with small combos.

Cleveland performed on albums with several jazz and gospel greats, including Dizzie Gillespie, Miles Davis, Oliver Nelson, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley, Lalo Schifrin, Michel Legrand and Aretha Franklin.

But it was his work in gospel that earned him the unofficial title of the 'King of Gospel.'


Cleveland won a Grammy for best traditional soul gospel performance in 1981 for 'Lord, Let Me Be An Instrument,' and was nominated for three more Grammys between 1982 and 1987.

He earned another nomination for best gospel album in 1991 for 'Having Church,' recorded with the Southern California Community Choir.

Cleveland, who boasted 16 gold albums, also was honored with the first star on the famed Hollywood 'Walk of Fame' given to a gospel artist.

But he was slowed in recent years by a respiratory ailment, which forced him to miss a tribute to him held last October in Los Angeles.

He is survived by a daughter, three sisters and a brother.

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