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The telling story of one of the country's best-known gospel groups

How I Got Over

Clara Ward and the World-Famous Ward Singers

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Willa Ward-Royster, as told by Toni Rose, foreword by Horace Clarence Boyer

"The poignant memoir of a group of women who dominated gospel music in the United States for decades, this story of an ambitious and sometimes greedy and vain mother exploiting her sweet , talented daughter could be a classic tragedy or a really bad movie script. However, the 'other' daughter, Willa Ward-Royster, is a fair and articulate witness, providing historical detail about road trips, concerts, recording sessions, and celebrity sightings …. Readers will be grateful to the author for a courageous and genuinely gracious book."
The Bloomsbury Review

In 1931, Gertrude Murphy Ward was pressing clothes in a Philadelphia dry cleaning establishment when a voice said to her, "Go sing my Gospel and help save dying and lost men and women." With her two daughters, Clara and Willa, she went on to found the group that became the world-famous Ward Singers. By 1970, it took fifty police officers to control the crowds that greeted the Ward Singers at one of their concerts.

Lavishly illustrated with photographs from the author's collection, this book chronicles the world-famous Ward Singers' story from rural Anderson, South Carolina, to the streets of North Philadelphia and beyond. Told by Clara Ward's older sister, Willa, with the assistance of musician and writer Toni Rose, the Wards' story ranges over the joys and frustrations, triumphs and agonies of what it means to be simultaneously a family, an entertainment business enterprise, and a group with a mission to spread God's word.

Like many other gospel singers, the Wards grew up in poverty. Willa remembers living in twenty-four different homes before she was nineteen. This was especially true after Gertrude quit her job to sing for goodwill offerings. By the time of Clara's death in 1973, however, the group was performing all over the world. They appeared on television with Dinah Shore, Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, and many others and recorded the first million-seller hit by a gospel group, "Surely God Is Able."

From Ma Hannah, matriarch of the Murphy family, to Marion Williams, Mahalia Jackson, and C. L. Franklin, How I Got Over brings to life an unforgettable group of people, some famous, some unknown, as they are vividly recollected by a woman who was there. In her telling of heart-warming family scenes, childhood escapades, triumphant performances, Willa Ward-Royster re-creates a career and a way of life that will remain in the reader's memory.

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Excerpt

Read an excerpt from Part I (pdf).

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Reviews

"This is the story not only of a talented singing group but also of an extended family who mirror the black American experience in the 20th century.... The book contains details on everything from successful performances on the stage of the Apollo, major TV variety shows, and international tours to top sales of hit recordings and friendships with such luminaries as Mahalia Jackson. For readers who enjoy gospel music, American autobiography, and human-interest stories this is highly recommended reading."
Library Journal

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Contents

Foreword – Horace Clarence Boyer
Preface
Prologue
Part I: 1901-1949
Part II: 1949-1963
Part III: 1963-1981
Epilogue
Afterword: Excerpts from an Interview with John Wilson
Appendix
Index

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About the Author(s)

Willa Ward-Royster performed with the Clara Ward Singers as a solo artist and as head of several of her own groups. Though semi-retired, she still appears in combination with such former Ward Singers as Frances Steadman, Kitty Parham, and Esther Ford and performs in area suppler clubs, nursing homes, and senior centers.

Toni Rose is a freelance writer and musician. She has worked with many bands and groups as a vocalist and drummer. She sculpts and writes poetry and was co-owner of High Fashion Designs: Ben-Toni Label.

Subject Categories

African American Studies
Women's Studies
Music and Dance

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