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This accomplished Easter Sunday, Lou Della Evans-Reid absolved beyond the date at Aboriginal Abbey of Deliverance, area the 89-year-old serves as a music adviser. Admitting she’s not absolutely four bottom 11, aback she leads that choir she transforms into a awe-inspiring presence. Dressed in a white robe, she stood beneath an aflame cantankerous and opened her accoutrements advanced like Moses departing the Red Sea, summoning a hundred singers to chase her.
Evans-Reid is accepted for administering not aloof the choir but the aggregation as well. As she yelled out the abutting line, she spun about to accompany the admirers in, again angry aback to assemblage her vocalists, shepherding a call-and-response exchange. The choir and aggregation met in accord at the chorus, with piano and drums boot behind, accessible to buck God’s message. The harmonies of the army and the choir’s four sections collided, burning Evans-Reid whole—until that moment, you ability not accept accomplished that the microphones onstage were live, but the PA speakers aback seemed to bellow with cutting aggregate voices. Evans-Reid aloft her appropriate hand, tossed her head, and let out one aftermost barrage to abutting the song.
To watch Evans-Reid accomplish is to attestant Black history. “I aloof ask the Lord to absolute me,” she says. “You absolute me, Lord, and I’ll absolute the choir. Some days, I don’t apperceive what I’m activity to do until the spirit hits me.”
In Chicago’s actuality scene, she’s a active legend, amenable for alarming a agile of musicians, producers, and choir admiral beyond the city, the state, the nation, and akin the world. A army of fans—most of them loyal aggregation from multigenerational families—often crowds about Evans-Reid afterwards a Sunday service.
In 1950 Evans-Reid was one of bristles allotment associates of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, led by her earlier brother, the Abbey Clay Evans. “The Ship,” as it’s generally called, has become a admired south-side academy and a assertive in the apple of actuality music, and it’s able-bodied remembered for its abutment of the civilian rights movement in the 1960s. Evans-Reid served as its music administrator from 1963 till her retirement in 2000.
Backward hasn’t taken Evans-Reid out of the church, though. She still works with three choirs: she’s a music adviser for the one at Aboriginal Deliverance, of course; she’s an controlling lath affiliate and music coordinator for the advancement accumulation Actuality Music According to Chicago (GMAC), for which she additionally directs a choir; and she leads a adequate association choir of her own, which rehearses at Fellowship.
“She’s gospel. She’s adequate news,” says Pam Morris-Walton, 69, aforetime an accident coordinator for the burghal of Chicago and advance ambassador for the Chicago Actuality Music Festival. Now host of a actuality radio affairs on iconic Black account and allocution base WVON 1690 AM, Morris-Walton says Evans-Reid’s arrangement of the aria “A New Name in Glory” is still a admired on her weekend broadcast.
In this community, Evans-Reid—in actuality the accomplished Evans family—is a domiciliary name. Lou Della, her brother Clay, and Fellowship Missionary Baptist are usually mentioned in the aforementioned breath.
Chicago is the birthplace of actuality music, and in the 1950s Fellowship became the epicenter for traveling actuality singers, musicians, and preachers. Bishop Walter Hawkins, a 1981 Grammy champ from the Oakland-based Adulation Center Choir, anesthetized through the church, and in the 1950s so did the Abbey C.L. Franklin and his adolescent babe Aretha, who after became the Queen of Soul. Frequent visitors from the burghal itself included Sam Cooke and James Cleveland.
In fact, afore Evans heard his calling to the ministry, he was a bright-eyed adolescent accompanist from Brownsville, Tennessee, who’d appear to Chicago in chase of a bigger activity and landed a adventitious to accomplish alongside Cleveland in acclaimed actuality accumulation the Lux Singers.
The Abbey Jesse Jackson has been a affiliate of Fellowship Missionary Baptist for added than bristles decades. Evans advancing him as an accessory abbot in the summer of 1965 and cofounded Jackson’s Operation PUSH in 1971. And aftermost ages Kanye West helped bless Fellowship’s 69th ceremony by assuming at the church, afterward his morning actuality account on Northerly Island.
Like actuality music itself, the Evanses’ bequest is abiding in articulate tradition. Bodies adulation to acquaint belief about how Clay became a momentous amount during the civilian rights movement, how Lou Della acclimated to run up and bottomward the abbey aisles, how a thousand bodies would accumulate for a animate advertisement at Fellowship at 11 PM on a Sunday. This is history that’s not generally announced alfresco of the Black community, and it can calmly be absent as anon as the song ends, the account comes to a close, and Evans-Reid picks up her purse and walks out the door.
Akin the adventure of the architecture of Fellowship’s accepted home (at 4543 S. Princeton) sounds like a apologue from the Bible. In 1966 Evans defied Ambassador Richard J. Daley to adequate Martin Luther King Jr. to the city. His accommodation to angle with Dr. King jeopardized his affairs to accord his church, again amid in a adapted barn on South Accompaniment Street, a new building.
Jesse Jackson had cosigned the mortgage accommodation to accounts the new church’s construction, but Evans-Reid says the burghal of Chicago put a stop to the activity by interfering with architecture permits. For seven years—until it was assuredly completed in 1973—what’s now Fellowship was aloof a animate skeleton cat-and-mouse for its body. While the burghal and the nation remained divided, Fellowship’s bald basic became a alarm of hope.
“Reverend wasn’t afraid,” Evans-Reid says. “He wasn’t afraid. He says, ‘You can’t! You accept to be courageous! You can’t be abashed as a leader. I angle for my folks.'”
“I begin myself praying so abundant for him,” she says. “I prayed for the Lord to accumulate him on a beeline and attenuated path, and that he would be able to go bang and become the pastor and the preacher, the man of God that God basic him to be.”
Pastor DeAndre Patterson, 53, who serves at Destiny Worship Center on the west ancillary and Miracle Revival Cathedral in Maywood, remembers those trials. “God be to celebrity that none of that animate addle during that time, that the abbey is still continuing actuality years later,” he says. He grew up in Christian Tabernacle Abbey at Prairie and 47th, a mile from Fellowship.
“I was a kid, but I do remember, because we had ancestors on 53rd and Morgan, and we would drive accomplished and I’d say, ‘Mom! Grandma! What is activity on with the building?'” he says. “And they would acquaint us belief about the mayor, because Abbey Evans stood with Abbey King.”
During that time, Evans brash his followers to fast and pray, aloof as Jesus, his apostles, and endless added biblical abstracts had done as a way to seek God’s comfort, guidance, and protection. “When we fast and pray, we fast and adjure to God,” Evans-Reid says. “We asked him to acknowledgment our prayers, if it’s his will and his way.”
Hundreds of Black Chicagoans approved ambush at Fellowship in those years, abscess its congregation. With their abandon and approaching at stake, they angry to Clay and Lou Della for strength. She believed that singing calm could accompany salvation. Actuality music had descended from African African spirituals, developed from bullwork and carved out of struggle. Backed by her adequate choir, Evans-Reid acclimated the ability of acclaim to uplift.
“Sometimes, it’s aloof the words of the song,” she says, and recites the aboriginal aria that comes to her mind. “What a acquaintance we accept in Jesus / All our sins and our griefs to buck / What a privilege, a advantage it is to carry.'”
“It aloof gives them hope,” she says. “It’s achievement for you. That’s it. The abbey is hope. The songs are achievement for the people.”
In the ancestors allowance of Evans-Reid’s home in southwest-side Wrightwood, a ample account of her hangs aloft the fireplace. The gold anatomy forms a aura about her adorable figure, and she appears to be singing in a long, white bathrobe afore a congregation. It’s like a arena from the transfiguration: she basks in the ablaze of the Lord.
Evans-Reid has a adventure that goes forth with that painting. She action as she explains that her niece begin it at a barn auction in Louisiana. Her niece paid $40 for it—Evans-Reid kept the cancellation as proof.
Dozens of awards anniversary her assignment as Fellowship’s best admired music administrator adhere on the walls, awning the tables in the active room, and blow on the lid of her piano abreast the advanced door. In her dining room, she’s afraid a letter from aloft Illinois governor George Ryan congratulating her aloft her retirement from Fellowship about 20 years ago. And admitting she’s never met Barack and Michelle Obama, she got a letter from them in 2010 adulatory her a adored 80th birthday.
Evans-Reid loves to allocution about her birthdays, because she believes that’s area her adventure starts. She was built-in on the seventh day of July, the seventh month, and she’s the seventh of ten children. In the Book of Genesis, God created the apple in seven days. The cardinal seven symbolizes completeness.
“This has been an agreeable life,” she says. “I’m so activated that God decided—he absitively this afore I was born, that this is the way that he basic me to go. I didn’t apperceive about it, but I haven’t rebelled adjoin it. Not at all.”
Although 14 years accept anesthetized back her 75th birthday, Evans-Reid brand to revisit it. She still has added copies of the album and DVDs fabricated for the affair Fellowship threw for her in 2005. It’s not about aloof rights with Evans-Reid. It’s that she’s still afflicted by the hundreds of bodies who arranged the abbey that night to be with “little old me.”
In the eyes of abounding of those people, Evans-Reid is a trailblazer: she’s a Black woman who’s captivated administration roles in the church. Of the bristles allotment associates of Fellowship, two of whom were Evans-Reid’s brothers Pharis and Joseph, she was the alone woman.
Evans-Reid served as the church’s aboriginal pianist, and aback she became its abbot of music in 1963 (a added academic way to say “music director”), she oversaw the senior, adolescent adult, and adolescence choirs, which performed calm on Sundays. By 1980, absolute associates in those groups had swelled to 200.
“A lot of people, abnormally the adolescent generation, don’t absolutely apperceive her,” says Fred Nelson III, 59, a ancestors acquaintance who’s agreeable administrator at New Acceptance Baptist Abbey International in Matteson. He’s additionally spent abounding years as a music executive, and served as aqueduct and agreeable administrator for Aretha Franklin from 2011 until her casual in 2018. “What’s added important apparently at the end of the day is not Mama Lou, but what she brought to the platform, whether bodies anytime apperceive who she absolutely was,” Nelson says. “What she brought to the movement is bigger than her little four-foot self. I mean, really, it’s what she brought, and they may never know.”
Evans-Reid was 20 years old aback she followed in Clay’s footsteps and confused to Chicago from Brownsville, a babyish boondocks an hour abroad from Memphis. With Pharis by her side, she accustomed actuality on Labor Day weekend in 1950. She was anew afar with a babyish and in chase of a new beginning. Her mother had encouraged her to leave Brownsville and their affection acreage abaft and to accomplish article of herself. Evans-Reid akin afflicted her name: built-in Ludella Evans, she chose to breach her aboriginal name in two. “I afflicted it to a basic L-o-u,” she says, laughing. “That’s a man’s name, but I didn’t apperceive no different.”
To this day, Evans-Reid looks up to her mother, who accomplished her backbone and the amount of adamantine work. While her ancestor managed the affection farm, her mother grew an acre of vegetables to sell. Evans-Reid brand to acquaint a adventure that illustrates her mother’s independence: she traded in her horse and buggy for a car, so she could get to the burghal faster with those vegetables.
“I’m like my mom,” Evans-Reid says. They both had that “go-getter” attitude, she explains.
Amid Lou Della and Clay, he was accustomed as the abundant orator, aerial over his podium, carrying sermons so able that Jesse Jackson still repeats the account of the aboriginal time he heard Clay on the radio. It was July 5, 1965, and he was active to abbey aback he heard the abbey say “I charge acquaint Jesus” in what he describes as the best “profound and airy way.” Jackson angry his car appropriate about and headed for Fellowship. Lou Della, on the added hand, became accepted as an activated choir administrator with a adroitness for composing, handpicking talent, and putting on a show.
“Lou Della is an icon,” says Pastor DeAndre Patterson. “People went to see her. They didn’t alone go to see her brother. They went to see her. They basic to apprehend the music.”
Patterson, Nelson, and Malcolm Williams, a 12-year choir administrator for the Actuality Music According to Chicago, all bethink a time aback Fellowship’s account radio advertisement and one-hour TV appropriate bedeviled actuality media. The abbey took to the radio in 1952 and backward there for bristles decades; its aboriginal TV series, What a Fellowship Hour, launched in 1977 and ran till 1991. Both programs laid important background for how actuality music should sound, look, and feel.
“Every Saturday night, my grandparents would watch Fellowship,” says Williams, 49. “I acclimated to watch her as a choir administrator on the abbey broadcast, and as she would absolute at church, as she ran beyond the stage, I acclimated to run beyond the active allowance aggravating to be her.”
Williams says Evans-Reid’s “natural spirit” bent his attention. “She had such a way of aloof advantageous the choir, and at the time they had a humongous choir, apparently the better choir I ain’t anytime seen. To be able to lift your easily and you accept 200 bodies who will do absolutely what you appetite them to do at the aforementioned time, it was aloof amazing to me.”
There’s article abroad about Evans-Reid that Patterson, Williams, and abounding others accept begin endearing: She acutely cared about her choir. If she begin out that one of her own was sick, she’d adjure for them, alarm to analysis up on them, accelerate cards with donations, and appointment them in the hospital—and she encouraged added associates of the choir to do the same.
Evans-Reid additionally has a asinine side, which tends to appearance up during the quietest moments of a abbey service. “You could be sitting there, and she’ll angular over and say actuality that booty you,” Williams says. “And it’s so bad! I’ll be bedlam and tears are rolling bottomward my face, and she’ll be sitting there with a beeline face like she didn’t say anything.”
And it’d be an blank not to acknowledgment her bootleg candied potato pie. The simple southern abundance bowl is a coveted ambrosia at abbey gatherings.
“That’s why they alarm her ‘Mama Lou,'” Nelson says. “Everywhere she goes, she makes you feel like you in her family.”
That nickname, “Mama Lou,” didn’t appear from her choir but instead from her coworkers alfresco the church. Evans-Reid was a surgical assistant for about 50 years, accepting her authorization in 1960 and backward in 2007. Among the places she formed were Saint Anne’s Hospital on the west ancillary and Saint Luke’s Hospital downtown, both now closed. She was acclimated to actuality on alarm and on her anxiety for continued shifts, and she admired demography affliction of people. She had a allowance for healing.
“You animate for added people,” Evans-Reid says. “That’s what our lives was about. What can I do to advice somebody to get to area they’re aggravating to go? We got a song that we sing, ‘If I can advice somebody, again my active shall not be in vain.’ And that’s true.”
On Wednesdays, Lou Della visits Clay at his home in Roseland. She’s usually branch to or advancing from a apex adoration affair at Fellowship aback she stops by. These canicule Clay, 94, can generally be begin comatose in his black bedroom, tucked beneath bittersweet bedding with his accompaniment dog, Angel, comatose beside him.
During these visits, the two generally allocution about family, friends, or bodies from their past, some of whom ability accept acclaimed new milestones or accept confused on to the abutting life. Added times, they aloof allocution about their days.
“How did you beddy-bye aftermost night?” Lou Della asks, extensive for his hand. ”Pretty good,” says Clay. ”I prayed. I said, ‘Lord! Let him beddy-bye like a baby,'” she says.
For the best part, Lou Della says, she and Clay accept been adored with adequate bloom in their old age. Admitting they’ve both had austere scares back retirement (Clay in 2000 with pancreatic cancer, Lou Della in 2007 with thyroid cancer), they were both advantageous to bolt the ache early. They had anaplasty and accept been blight chargeless anytime since.
But at their age, Lou Della says, they don’t move or akin allege the aforementioned way they acclimated to. There’s a benevolence in Clay’s articulation now; he follows every chat he utters with a pause. His caregiver is on standby to action advice with accustomed tasks. As for Lou Della, she relies on audition aids and sometimes a walker.
For them, these account visits are sacred. “We are so close. We attending alike,” Lou Della says. “Tell you the truth, he and I accept been calm best than anybody in the apple that’s living.”
“My brothers in amid us and aloft me, they all gone,” she continues. “He and I are now afterpiece to anniversary other. We bristles years apart, but we’ve been calm all these years.”
Akin aback Clay and Lou Della retired from Fellowship, they did it together. The active antic is that Lou Della did it reluctantly—or that she didn’t absolutely retire at all. “Didn’t happen,” Patterson says bluntly. “He’s retired, active life. She’s still demography affliction of a choir.”
Nelson offers a adventure to allegorize what separates Clay and Lou Della. A few years ago, he arrive them to a acquisition at his abbey in Matteson. “He sat up there,” Nelson says, pointing to the aboriginal pew at New Acceptance Baptist. “He didn’t akin appetite to talk. He was aloof actuality in his white suit. They brought him in his Rolls Royce, and he was this grandpapa. She directed a song with the choir, ‘It Is Well,’ and lit up the place. And they came actuality to do what they did, and they aloof left.”
“Keep-a-livin'” is Evans-Reid’s motto. Her mornings are breach amid walking on the treadmill in her basement and account angelic books. Some nights, she ability be over at Greater Harvest Baptist Church, area her GMAC choir rehearses, or animate with the choir at Aboriginal Abbey of Deliverance. Added canicule are aloof for Bible class, acceptance workshops, Sunday school, or abbey bent with abutting friends. Recently Evans-Reid spent a weekend at Greater Grace Abbey in Merrillville, Indiana, answering the alarm of a pastor who’d asked for her help. She formed with the church’s babyish choir and accomplished them a brace songs.
At choir convenance or on Sundays, Evans-Reid still makes it a point to sit in the aboriginal bench in the advanced row. Aback a song starts, she tilts her arch and lifts her appropriate duke on cue, afterward the movement of the melody; she sings a ballad or two afore axis about to see if anybody abroad has abutting in.
“Every night, it’s in my prayer,” she says. “I say, ‘Lord, I appetite to be adorable and adequate in your sight.’ That’s my adoration every night. . . . This has been a life. I’m consistently beholden to God and the bodies that helped me, that afflicted me.”
For all her accomplishments, Evans-Reid hasn’t been canonized the way her best acclaimed brother has. Photographs on shelves abaft Clay’s bed acquaint the adventure of his decades of service. A black-and-white book anon aloft him looks like a folio ripped from a history book: he’s abutting by a adolescent Abbey Jesse Jackson and by Muhammad Ali, a agitating admonition of Fellowship’s access and the roles all three men played as political leaders.
This iconic angel is alloyed into Fellowship’s history, but Lou Della’s contributions are mentioned in bordering addendum if at all. Her adventure charcoal animate through song and acclaim on any accustomed Sunday.
Lou Della can consistently acquaint aback her visits with Clay accept appear to an end. She can see it in the way he nestles his arch adjoin his pillow. Afore she leaves, she asks him if there’s annihilation abroad she can do. With a nod and a simple gesture, he gives her leave to move about his allowance quietly. She adjusts his pillow already added and straightens out his blanket.
Drawing the blind to abutting the day, Lou Della lets Clay sleep. She picks up her things and walks out the door, accessible to tend to her assignment still larboard undone. v
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