James Cleveland’s very name conjures up images of all that is wrong with the black gospel music industry. He is revered by unrepentant homosexuals in the business for his fame, talent and larger than life persona which held the gospel music industry in its dark grip for 40 years until Cleveland’s death from AIDS in 1991.
In the wake of his death, the awful stories began to surface. Stories about Cleveland’s penchant for young boys and men who ventured into his Gospel Music of America Workshops. Some of them came looking for sexual hookups. That’s what they had been told could be expected. Sadly, the foul spirit in James Cleveland, which was not the spirit of the Lord, maintains an active presence in the GMWA. Its dark influence is even more pronounced on the black gospel music industry.
The worst of it was openly confirmed when Christopher Harris (Cleveland’s foster son) told a reporter that he and Cleveland carried on a sexual relationship for five years.
When he was 13, Harris was the only boy alto in the choir at Cleveland’s Los Angeles church. He was strapping 6 feet tall and looked 20.
Cleveland was a giant in the industry. He wrote more than 400 songs, recorded more than 100 albums, 16 of them gold, and won four Grammys. He founded the Gospel Music Workshop of America and mentored a young Aretha Franklin.
When he died in 1991 at age 59, 6,000 attended his funeral. Harris is now 25 and has HIV. “It has its moments, but mostly it doesn’t affect me unless there is stress,” said Harris, who is Cleveland’s former foster son.
Harris once went by the name Christopher Cleveland. That was before he filed suit against Cleveland’s estate alleging five years of sexual contact that ended with Harris testing positive for HIV.
“Legally, I became his,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles.
The case was settled out of court. The terms prohibit him from discussing the settlement. But he is free to discuss his life with Cleveland.
“I went to his church. He looked into my face and saw my dreams and he used it,” he said. “I wanted to sing, I didn’t want to be like him. He promised that he would help me. He just played it to his advantage, he used my naiveness to his gain,” Harris said.
Harris said his sexual encounters with the older singer were not molestation. Nor, he said, were they his first such encounters with a man. He says that they were typical of the secretive lifestyle of many of the people to whom he was exposed.
“People in [Cleveland's] inner circle knew, people at church knew,” he said. “But they pretended it didn’t exist. I guess what you don’t see you can’t say. But I can.”
“No. He didn’t die of heart failure–heart failure is just a delusion,” Harris said, nearly laughing. The he hesitated. “Let’s just leave it at that.”
This is the danger of the church’s continued silence and failure to take action against people weilding influence in the church while spreading spiritual and sexual destruction everywhere the soles of their feet land.
Whether Dr. Bobby Jones is the new James Cleveland remains to be seen. What we do know is that we do not want another “James Cleveland” terrorizing the church until he is dead, only for someone else to pick up that wicked mantle and continue the legacy. Bobby Jones has yet to clear up his theological stance on homosexuality. We thought he would be courageous enough to respond before the cancelled CNN show. A source within CNN told us on yesterday that Jones’ camp had been contacted to give a statement, but were given conflicting answers.
We also attempted contact with Dr. Jones through his secretary Danyelle Haley, but she hung up the phone in the face of the pastor who called to get their response. Haley also denied receiving emails from GCM Watch.
Message to the black church?
At the heart of this issue is why was Dr. Jones chosen to participate in this movie by the gay activists behind it?
When Barack Obama selected a white, gay cleric to pacify the protest against him for allowing Donnie McClurkin to sing on his “Change” tour in South Carolina, black gays were outraged. Why didn’t Obama choose a black, openly gay cleric to participate, they demaned to know. They argued it would raise the awareness of such individuals in the black community. Keith Boykin and the producers behind Dirty Laundry could have easily picked any number of black homosexual clergy who were “out”. But they didn’t. Instead, they choose a man who like James Cleveland was wrapped in controversy about his sexuality. And like Cleveland, Jones is a “kingmaker” in the gospel music industry. Scores of wannabe-the next-big-thing gospel music singers flock to his highly influential International Gospel Industry Retreat which some say rival Cleveland’s GMWA.
Was Jones’ appearance in the movie a message to the black church? Is the message that since your celebrated Bobby Jones accepts and endorses homosexuality, then why are you still being “homophobic”?
Whatever the nefarious message is, we are saying loud and clear: We don’t want another James Cleveland. Can the true church say amen?