HISTORY OF GMWA

In March of 1967, Rev. James Cleveland (1931-1991) called together musicians from across the United States in an effort to brainstorm his idea of producing a venue for gospel music presentations.  In particular, he called William Bryant, Dallas, TX, James Ford, Philadelphia, PA, Ralph Goodpasture, Chicago, IL, Ronnie Ingram, Cambridge, MA, Edgar O’Neal, St. Louis, MO, Earl Preston, Cleveland, OH, Lawrence Roberts, Nutley, NJ, Williams C. Sims, Cleveland, OH, and Harold Smith, Detroit, MI and formed the Gospel Music Workshop of America Association with a national convention motto and philosophy of “Where Everybody Is Somebody.”  The above persons were united as a Board of Directors.  The first national meeting was held at the London Inn with services conducted nightly at the Prayer Tabernacle Church, both in Detroit, MI.

The first national convention was held in August of 1968 at the King Solomon Baptist Church and Masonic Temple, both in Detroit, MI.  It attracted more than 3000 music lovers from all across the country.  In December 1976, Incorporation papers were filed in the City of Detroit and State of Michigan making the corporation a not-for-profit entity and giving the organization an EIN number.  Rev. Cleveland passed away on February 9, 1991.  Also during the 1968 session of the organization, the first mass choir was formed out of Philadelphia, PA consisting of Victory Ensemble, Savettes, Brockington Ensemble, Douglas Fulton Ensemble and First Church of Love and Deliverance.  Two hundred and fifty persons comprised the mass choir as they marched in singing “We Are on Our Way”, written by Eugene Dukes of Philadelphia, PA.

The Gospel Music Workshop of America is an annual assembly of inter-denominational musicians and others from throughout the country and internationally, and has a current enrolled membership well above 10,000.  It is also a Christian community organization convening annually where national performers, recording artists, new and aspiring song writers, educators, liturgical dancers, the young and the old, pastors and others minister to each other, and to the needs and directions within the African-American religious experience.  Although the organization is a predominantly African-American assembly, it has opened its doors to welcome and receive people of different color, influences and cultures.  Qualifications for membership in the organization is not restricted to race, color, gender, nationality, physical handicap, or ethnic background, “We Welcome All.”  At the 1991 annual board meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, a new Constitution and By-Laws Committee was formed.  The purpose of this committee was to restructure the operational developments of the organization to include the Board of Directors as the policy-makers of the organization:  The First Chair of the Board of Directors - In 1992, the Board of Directors elected Mr. Al “The Bishop” Hobbs of Indianapolis, Indiana as its first Chairman of the Board.  Mr. Hobbs served for four years.  The Second Chairman of the Board of Directors - In 1996, Bishop Albert L. Jamison Sr., of Bethpage, New York was elected unanimously by the Board of Directors as its second Chairman of the Board.  Bishop Jamison has served successfully in this capacity until the present.

Historically, Rev. James Cleveland was known and respected as the “King of Gospel Music” with his numerous gospel recordings of which many were national hits.   Along with Rev. Cleveland and the famed national Mass Choir of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, he produced many recorded songs that were performed on national stages throughout the country.  One song in particular was his famous “Peace Be Still.”  On August 12, 1981, he was honored and celebrated into the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Stars) and a prestigious star bearing his name was inscribed along with other dignitaries and deserving people on the famous streets of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.  On February 23,1978, he received a Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance.

The government of the organization is vested in a Board of Directors that has a Chair of the Board.  The Board of Directors makes and sets the policies that governs the organization.  The nucleus of the enrolled membership of the Gospel Music Workshop of America is made up of local Chapters.  Chapters operate as affiliates of the parent body and is subject to the rules and regulations of the organization.  There are over 200 local Chapters within the United States and certain International countries.

The development and skills of African-American Sacred Music is a primary focus at the Gospel Music Workshop of America.  This includes an understanding of the major characteristics of the African influence—dynamics, percussive functions, rhythmic patterns, vocal techniques, familiar melodic patterns, improvisations (vocal and instrumental), and the use of instruments and interpretations.  The purposes of the organization are: (1) to enhance the Christian music ministry of its enrolled membership; (2) to perpetuate, promote and advance the Christian ideal through the medium of music; (3) to provide scholarships for the perpetuation and the continued development of African-American sacred music; (4) to provide an avenue for the enhancement and development of sacred music in the local church; (5) to bring together African-American sacred musicianship at the national level; (6) to open new areas where talent (large and small) can perform in some of the finest theaters and arenas in the country before vast audiences; and (7) to promote the purposes of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, via a national convention to be held each year.

The program format of the Gospel Music Workshop of America is comprised of Divisions and Auxiliaries.  Divisions are made up of various board members and are referenced as Vice Chairs of the Divisions.  There are fourteen divisions in the GMWA’s command structure; and eighteen national Auxiliaries.

A dream of Rev. James Cleveland was to have a “floating university” where people could be taught and learn the principles and elements of music. This dream has been fulfilled.  The Gospel Music Workshop of America has an Academic Division which is headed by a Dean who has responsibility for: a. Curriculum Development;

  1. Instructional Development; c. Thurston G. Frazier Memorial Chorale; d. Library/Archives Development; and e. Partnership Arrangements with Institutions of Higher Learning/Organizations/Corporations that support the mission and work of the Academic Division; and f. General training within the organization to include training of new board members.

To add to Rev. Cleveland’s desire of having education as one of the focal points of the organization, the Academic Division brought about new and exciting developments in its program operations.  A degree conferring ceremony increased the organization’s visibility in the country to a higher level in its academic pursuits.  Six board members, one Executive Administrative Assistant and one person in the Youth & Young Adult Division received LHD degrees from the Alabama Interdenominational Theological Seminary Inc. at Mobile, Dr. Wesley James (since passed away), President.  In the 2003 Tampa, Florida meeting of the organization, Bishop Albert L. Jamison Sr.  was the first to have a degree conferred.  Many members of Bishop Jamison’s church, Pleasant Grove Tabernacle in Brooklyn, New York, were in attendance to witness this historic degree awarding ceremony.

Dr. James and the Academic Dean of the organization, Dean Charles Reese, presided over these ceremonial meetings and conferred the degrees upon each candidate.  Each candidate had to write and produce a Life Based Experience portfolio and educational summary.  The Gospel Music Workshop of America was the first known organization to have a degree awarding ceremony away from an Institution of Higher Education.  The recipient’s portfolios are included in the Library of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.

The Academic Division has academic partnerships with various Institutions across the country that gives academic credit through these Institutions.  This means that students enrolled in classes within the Academic Division and who receive satisfactory grades, can receive credit for their class work completed at the Gospel Music Workshop of America.  The Special Academic Programs Book, developed and produced by the Academic Division, explains all academic offerings within the organization.

At the Gospel Music Workshop of America, the student is able to realize his/her success potential by building on experiences and present interests; and needs through options for study as well as a variety of resources and learning experiences that emphasize the development of mature self-directions.  A library that is set-up and operates the same as any public, college and university library is available at each convention session to help students with class-related assignments and to offer delegates and students a place to study and read leisurely and silently without interruption and interference.

The official and detailed history of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, Inc., is outlined in its publication, The Gospel Music Workshop of America, Inc. (The Historical Foundation, Formation & Development) –From A Dream and A Vision, written by Dean Charles F. Reese.

The legacy left by Rev. James Cleveland continues today and is alive in the program operations of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.

Active GMWA Membership ranges from professional and amateur Gospel vocalists to instrumentalists, composers, arrangers, directors and producers, and the like. According to its official website, approximately 75% of the music on Billboard’s Gospel Charts is written, arranged, produced, or performed by GMWA members. The GMWA also has chapters in the Asia.

Each year, up to 20,000 delegates assemble in the selected city for a teaching, learning and performance orientated environment. These delegates come with an interest in all styles of Gospel Music and the GMWA’s divisions and auxiliaries offer the services that meet their needs. An additional 3,000 to 5,000 local gospel music lovers attend the workshop and musical services during the week.

A National Mass Choir, GMWA Women of Worship, GMWA Men of Promise, GMWA Youth Choir, GMWA Small Children's Choir,  the Thurston G. Frazier Memorial Chorale, the Robert J. Fryson Chorale and the GMWA Contemporary Adult Division Choir (CAD) is formed at each convention.

  • 2018 – Atlanta, Georgia
  • 2017 – Atlanta, Georgia
  • 2016 – Birmingham, Alabama
  • 2015 – New Orleans, Louisiana
  • 2014 – Atlanta, Georgia
  • 2013 – Cincinnati, Ohio
  • 2012 – Nashville, TN
  • 2011 – Tampa, Florida
  • 2010 – Cincinnati, Ohio
  • 2009 – Cincinnati, Ohio
  • 2008 – Nashville, Tennessee
  • 2007 – Orlando, Florida
  • 2006 – Dallas, Texas
  • 2005 – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • 2004 – Kansas City, Missouri
  • 2003 – Tampa, Florida
  • 2002 – Detroit, Michigan
  • 2001 – Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • 2000 – New Orleans, Louisiana
  • 1999 – New Orleans, Louisiana
  • 1998 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1997 – Cincinnati, Ohio
  • 1996 – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 1995 – Los Angeles, California
  • 1994 – Atlanta, Georgia
  • 1993 – Indianapolis, Indiana
  • 1992 – Chicago, Illinois
  • 1991 – Salt Lake City, Utah
  • 1990 – Washington, D.C.
  • 1989 – New Orleans, Louisiana
  • 1988 – St. Louis, Missouri
  • 1987 – Detroit, Michigan
  • 1986 – Miami, Florida
  • 1985 – New York City, New York
  • 1984 – Atlanta, Georgia
  • 1983 – Cincinnati, Ohio
  • 1982 – Houston, Texas
  • 1981 – Los Angeles, California
  • 1980 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1979 – New Orleans, Louisiana
  • 1978 – Washington, D.C.
  • 1977 – Detroit, Michigan
  • 1976 – Kansas City, Missouri
  • 1975 – New York City, New York
  • 1974 – Cleveland, Ohio
  • 1973 – Chicago, Illinois
  • 1972 – Los Angeles, California
  • 1971 – Dallas, Texas
  • 1970 – St. Louis, Missouri
  • 1969 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1968 – Detroit, Michigan
  • 1967 - Organizational Beginning (Detroit, Michigan)
  • 2018 – Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 2017 – Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 2016 – Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 2015 – Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 2014 – Los Angeles, California
  • 2013 – Dallas, Texas
  • 2012 – San Diego, California
  • 2011 – Norfolk, Virginia
  • 2010 – Henderson, Nevada
  • 2009 – Birmingham, Alabama
  • 2008 – Dallas, Texas
  • 2007 – Brooklyn, New York
  • 2006 –  San Diego, California
  • 2005 – Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 2004 – Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 2003 – Dayton, Ohio
  • 2002 – Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • 2001 – Richmond, Virginia
  • 2000 – Birmingham, Alabama
  • 1999 – Little Rock, Arkansas
  • 1998 – Nassau Bahamas
  • 1997 – Houston, Texas
  • 1996 – Mobile, Alabama
  • 1995 – Phoenix, Arizona
  • 1994 – Oakland, CA
  • 1993 - Nashville, TN
  • 1991 - Charlotte, NC
  • 1990 - San Diego, CA
  • 1989 - Las Vegas, NV
  • 1988 - Mobile, AL
  • 1987 - Las Vegas, NV
  • 1986 - Las Vegas, NV
  • 1985 - New Orleans, LA
  • 1984 - Chicago, IL
  • 1983 - Chicago, IL
  • 1982 - Indianapolis, IN
  • 1981 - San Antonio, TX
  • 1980 - San Diego, CA
  • 1979 - Birmingham, AL
  • 1978 - Ft. Worth, TX
  • 1977 - Nashville, TN
  • 1976 - Tampa, FL
  • 1975 - Las Vegas, NV
  • 1973 - Savannah, GA
  • 1972 - Chicago, IL
  • 1971 - Dallas, TX
  • 1970 - St. Louis, MO
  • 1969 - Detroit, MI
  • 1968 - Detroit, MI