In the early 70's Rev. James Cleveland
appointed Mrs. Elma Hendrix Parham, a true servant of God, of Detroit,
Michigan as the first Chairman of the Women's Division, GMWA. Each year
the Women's Division raised funds for scholarships for students aspiring
to become great musicians. Mrs. Hendrix Parham worked diligently and
faithfully with the women (which was a small group at that time). She
was a very fiery woman and that excitement spread like wildfire causing
the women to praise God and to give Him the glory and honor due Him.
Mrs. Hendrix Parham encouraged the women to strive for excellence until
In 1979 Rev. James Cleveland appointed another strong woman of God, Mrs.
Mary K. Elsaw of Birmingham, Alabama as leader of the Women's Division.
She was short in stature, but a great leader and disciplinarian. Mrs.
Elsaw stepped to the mark to carry the torch of excellence that Mrs.
Hendrix Parham had begun.
During Mrs. Elsaw's administration, the Women's Division became the
second largest division in the workshop. In addition to the Ms. GMWA
contest and other fundraisers that made it possible for many students to
receive scholarships to the universities of their choices, the Women's
Division recorded its first project, "Order My Steps" written by Glenn
Burleigh. During this recording that was produced by Sanchez Harvey and
Al "the Bishop" Hobbs. The world renown Pamela Davis was pianist and
Sherri Garrison was directress. The recording was intended to be a
fundraiser; however, God blessed the project and it is still ministering
to saints even to this present time. Because of Mrs. Elsaw's vision, the
Women's Division is known as the "Women of Worship''. This group of
women is known as one of the most respected groups of worshippers in
this nation and abroad. Rose Bener, Elsie Branch, Lee Ida Campbell and
Betty Bates served on the executive committee with Mrs. Elsaw. One of
her final directives was to appoint Min. Prince E. Yelder as Minister of
Music for the Women's Division.
Mrs. Elsaw, just as Mrs. Hendrix Parham, has left a legacy of excellence
for the Women's Division to carry on. She is now resting in the safety
of our Lord.
Mrs. Eloise Ford Gaffney is Chairlady of the Women's Division and a
member of the GMWA Board of Directors. She is a founding member of the
Birmingham Community Mass Choir (Birmingham Chapter GMWA) which was
organized in 1968 by Mrs. Mary K. Elsaw. Mrs. Gaffney served as
assistant to Mrs. Elsaw for 35 years, and was Mrs. Elsaw’s
Administrative Assistant for the Woman of Worship, GMWA. During this
time frame she was instrumental in planning activities, keeping records,
scheduling, teaching and directing the choir. For many years she served
as section leader on many of the recordings by the Women of Worship
(Order My Steps, When I Get Home, Coronation, I Got My Joy Back and He
Lives just to name a few).
The current (some past) Board of Directors for the Women's Division are
Ella Robinson, Elizabeth Square, Pearl Juanita Suggs (deceased) Bessie
Massie (deceased), Phyllis Benson (deceased), Pearlie Brantley, and
Helen Brown. In addition to worshipping God in spirit and in song, the
new administration of the Women's Division continues to focus on helping
youth by funding annual scholarships for youth interested in furthering
their studies in music. Mrs. Andrea Wimbush serves as our Scholarship
Another area of the Women's Division is to impact women's health. The
Division focuses on the temple that embodies God's spirit and enables
each woman to lift up her voice and sing. The group wants to encourage
women to take care of themselves. Women need to be reminded we are the
temples of the Holy Ghost!
As part of the healthy lifestyle initiative, the Women's Division
compiled a Women of Worship Cookbook. The cookbook features favorite
healthy recipes from the hundreds of women who make up the division.
At the convention in Milwaukee in 2005 the division revisited one of the
traditions of Black women and church by sponsoring their first Hatters'
Tea. Each woman is encouraged to show up wearing one of their finest
crowns or hats. The Tea features a National Recording Artist and a
competition between the women that ends in the crowning of Miss GMWA.
One of the highlights of the convention is the recording of the Women of
Worship. The group rehearses songs sent in by songwriters from
throughout the country and record those songs.
Throughout the women's time together, we receive information to inspire,
inform, and ignite. The workshops are designed to educate choir members
so that we may return to our home churches with a better understanding
of music. The Women's Division wants its attendees to return home
knowing that the division is composed of strong sisters who love the
Lord, love singing good gospel music, and who want to be around so that
God can order our steps.
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