Inez Andrews, one of the last of the great gospel divas died on December 19th in Chicago. She was aged 83.Â âShe was the last great female vocalist of gospelâs golden age,â said Anthony Heilbut, author of âThe Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Timesâ Â issued in 1971.
Ms. Andrews was known as the âHigh Priestess,â Heilbut said, ranking among the likes of Mahalia Jackson, Marion Williams, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Clara Ward.
Ms. Andrews became a national star in 1958 with The Caravans, the Chicago gospel group led byÂ Albertina WalkerÂ which also nurtured such stars as Shirley Caesar, theÂ Rev. James ClevelandÂ andÂ Bessie Griffin. That year she was the lead singer for what became two of the Caravansâ biggest hits.Â One was âIâm Not Tired Yet,â theÂ other was âMary Donât You Weepâ.
Inez McConico, was born in Birmingham on April 14th, 1929.Â Inez was a teenager when she married Robert Andrews. By the time they divorced, when she was 18, she was the mother of two children. She worked in menial jobs and sang in church.
Ms. Andrews began her career with in Birmingham, Alabama, with Carterâs Choral Ensemble and as a stand in for Dorothy Love Coates in the Original Gospel Harmonettes. By the mid-1950s, the Harmonettes were one of the nationâs top gospel groups.
In 1962 Inez Andrews left the Caravans to start her own group, Inez Andrews and the Andrewettes. They toured Europe as part of a touring gospel show with the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and Bishop Kelsey, scenes of which (filmed in an empty German Church!) were released on DVD.
By 1967 she was touring as a soloist, and in 1973 scored her biggest hit, âLord Donât Move The Mountainâ, produced by Gene Barge.
During her career Ms. Andrews recorded for many labels, among them Songbird, Savoy, Jewel, Malaco and others. She often performed at reunion concerts with the Caravans. In 2002 she was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
âEven in songs of rejoicing, her voice has a somber undertone,â Jon Pareles wrote in The New York Times in 1990, âand when she takes on supplicating songs like the mid-tempo âLord Iâve Triedâ or the glacial minor-key blues of âStand by Meâ â both of which rise, verse by verse, to a near-scream â Ms. Andrews can sound desperate, on the verge of hysteria. Her’s is a gospel of terror, and of the relief faith provides.â
I first heard Ms. Andrews when she was singing with (Rev.) Carter’s Choral Ensemble during the late 40s and early 50s in Birmingham, Al. Her booming, soulful voice virtually assured her of a successful career. She never let her fame deter her from mingling with ordinary people. I had the great opportunity to speak with her in 2007 when she came down (to Birmingham) to share in a gala at the Sheraton Ballroom in honor of her long-time friend, Evelyn Starks Hardy, Pianist, Arranger, and sole survivor of the Original Gospel Harmonettes. Ms. Andrews’ appearance was cameo, but she was a hugh favorite with the audience.