The New Orleans Spiritualettes
I Believe
SONO 6012
 
The Songs
 
01. I Believe   
02. Lord Will You Help Me?               
03. You've Been Good To Me
04. The Lord Will Make A Way         
05. He's Calling Me                             
06. Two Wings                                              
07. Talk With Jesus                           
08. 99 And A Half                             
09. Bigger Than You and I                
10. God Is                                          
11. What You Think About Jesus?    
12. Down By The River Side
13. Galilee                                                      
14. I Don't Know Why                                  
15. Little Boy
 
The  Singers & Players
 
Ruby Ray:Leader and Lead singer
Audry Ferguson: Lead singer
Helen Carter: Lead singer       
Johnie B. Miller: Lead singer 
Keena Allen: Back Lead/Tenor
Dremetericus Thrumond: Soprano
Velma Winchester: Baritone
Eliza McMillion: Soprano
Elam Peter: Bass guitar
Eddie Perkins: Lead Guitar
James Williams: Rhythm Guitar
Tony McPherson: Drums
Kermith Campbell: Keyboards
 
                                     
Every year, on the third Sunday of October, the New Orleans Gospel Community comes together at the I.L.A. Hall of Claiborne Avenue to witness and celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the New Orleans Spiritualettes.  The hall is invariably “packed and Jammed,  and a good time is had in the name of the Lord.  This has been going on for thirty-nine years no, which makes the New Orleans Spiritualettes the oldest continuously active female Gospel singing group in the City.
 
The founder and matriarch of the Spiritualettes is Mrs. Ruby Ray.  She organized the  group after moving to New Orleans from  Centerville, Mississippi, a little Delta  town in the Southwestern corner of the State, where she grew up singing.  When you re living out there in the country,  Mrs. Ray confides, “there s no place to go but go singing.  And we were so used to just going to church and singing, we decided to form a group down here.   It was the late, great New Orleans Gospel singer, Isaac Haney, founder of Th. True Tone Gospel singers, who named them the “Spiritualettes  after attending one of their spirited rehearsals.  The Spiritualettes came forth during a time of intense musical activity in the New Orleans Gospel community.  Mrs. Ray recalls, “The Zion Travelers, Friendly Five, Southern Harps, Daughters of Israel, Gloryland Singers, those were some of the  groups when we were starting out. Then came the Rocks of Harmony, Southern Bells, Heavenly Stars, Crown Seekers; groups were just blooming up from everywhere.   The passing years have seen many groups rise and fall, but the Spiritualettes have survived on the righteous blend of deep vocal harmony and heart-felt  religious expression.
 
While staying abreast of the time, The Spiritualettes have not “gone contemporary.   They still adhere to the venerable precepts of pure religious vocal harmony singing, and they continue to draw their songs from the ancient  well of traditional sources.  Within the tradition, the creative process of gospel song construction is guided by a continuous renewal and  reaffirmation of familiar referential phrases and themes.  Originality is measured in terms of a  group s singular arrangements of otherwise commonly-shared material.  In this The Spiritualettes excel.  We have our own arrangements,  Mrs. Ray assures, “on every song we have.  And most of it is our own words.   Their arrangements speak for the intensity and sincerity of their religious convictions.
 
During the early 1960 s The Spiritualettes could be heard on a regular fifteen minute “live  broadcast from radio station WBOK, along with the City s most venerable female quartet of that time, The Southern Harps.  Eventually the broadcast was relocated from the WBOK studio to the basement of St. Daniel s Spiritual Church, under the guidance of Bishop Herman Brown, New Orleans  late  premier Gospel promoter.  Though the days of “live   Gospel radio are now, sadly, just about over, the tradition of the fifteen-minute broadcast persists, and The Spiritualettes can still be heard on WVOG every Saturday morning at 6:45 a.m., playing the latest  recorded Gospel hits, promoting fellowship and advising attuned listeners of upcoming programs and festival appearance.
 
While shepherding The Spiritualettes through the several changes in personnel over the years, Mrs. Ray has consistently managed to field a powerful group.  Among the current members, lead singer Audrey Ferguson has been a Spiritualette for thirty-two years; soprano Eliza McMillion, twenty years; baritone Velma Winchester, more than a decade; and lead singer Helen Carter, six years.  Also in the line-up are lead singer Johnie B. Miller; back lead singer and tenor Keena Allen; and soprano Dremetricus Thurmond.
 
All of The Spiritualettes are devout church members.  Ruby Ray, Audrey Ferguson, Eliza McMillion and Dremetricus Thurmond worship together at St. Thomas Baptist Church under the pastorship of Rev. Benjamin Maxon, who founded the well-known Zion Harmonizers back in 1939!  Velma Winchester belongs to Shiloh Baptist Church No.2;  Helen Carter, Macedonia Baptist Church; Keena Allen, Greater Bethlehem Baptist Church; and Johnie B. Miller, the  group s newest member, is from Stronger Hope Baptist Church.
 
The musicians who accompany The Spiritualettes: Eddie Perkins, lead guitar; James Williams,  rhythm guitar; Elam “Pete  Peters, bass guitar: and Tony McPherson, drums, are also considered regular members of the group.  Kermith Campbell played keyboards on several songs on this recording.  They are all church members and surely dedicated to Gospel music.  These are team players,  while they summon all of the necessary power and drive, no one overplays, and. By result, their tasteful musical underpinning leave ample room for the background singers to  showcase some well-formed vocal harmony.
 
In View of their talent and years of dedicated service, it s hard to believe that The Spiritualettes  recorded output has, until now, been confined to one late-1960 s 45rpm record on Rosemont label and a late-1980 s cassette release for Gift Studios, both of which have become collector s items.  This new Sound Of New Orleans  release will bring the world up to date with the sound of the New Orleans Spiritualettes.
 
Ruby Ray is the featured singer on “I Believe,  which she recalls was given to the group by William “Pete  Walker, leader of the New Orleans Mighty Chariots.  It has become The Spiritualettes  theme song.  Mrs. Ray also sings the lead on “He s Calling Me,  and original Spiritualettes  creation intended to honor members of the group like Cora Bundy, Bishop Leola Montgomery, Ethel Ricks and Hilda Carter, who have since passed away:
 
Helen Carter, (no relation to Hilda) is heard singing lead on the number, “God Is,  as well as on “Down By The Riverside,  which also benefits from a solo by guitarist Eddie Perkins, and “You ve Been Good To Me,  which the Spiritualettes learned from the hard-singing Northington Singers of Buffalo, New York.  Finally, Helen shines in the lead slot on “Ninety-Nine And A Half.   This appeal for a one-hundred percent commitment to God harkens back to Dorothy Love Coates and the Original Gospel Harmonettes, who made a full-blown hit with it in 1956.  The Spiritualettes were inspired to sing it after hearing a version performed by their adopted brother group,  the Might Sensationals of Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Adding a highly inventive call-and-response refrain to the “drive  portion of the song, Helen Carter brings out the best in the Spiritualettes.
 
Newcomer Johnie B. Miller contributes her powerful lead voice to “Talk With Jesus  and “Lord Will You Help Me,  which the Spiritualettes recast from a recording by Mildred Clark and the Kansas City Melodyaires.  The lion s share of lead singing is handled by Audrey Ferguson.  Galilee  and “Bigger Than You An I  are numbers she sang years ago with the Jerusalem Singers of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and she dedicates and “Bigger Than You An I  to the memory of former Jerusalem Singer, Ceola M. Hartford.  The Lord Will Make A Way  is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Jewel Campbell, who sang with Ruby Ray back in the 1950 s, and who often sang this song with the New Orleans Gospel Chords.  As former members of Gospel Chords, musicians Eddie Perkins and Elam “Pete  Peters knew Mr. Campbell well.
 
Audrey Ferguson also takes the lead on “What Do You Think About Jesus? , “He s All Right  and another traditional favorite, “I Don t Know Why,  about which Mrs. Ray notes, “ A lot of groups used to sing that, and we just made our own arrangement, and went on our way.   Audrey s tour De force  has to be  Two Wings,  a Biblical number based on the description of the seraphim in the sixth chapter of Isaiah: “each one had six wings; with the twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet and with twain he did fly.   In earlier times, this theme was popularized by Elder Utah Smith, the late guitar evangelist and past of the Two Wings Temple Church of God In Christ.  The Spiritualettes  fiery arrange was, like “You ve Been Good To Me,  inspired by the Northington Brothers of Buffalo, New York.
 
The Spiritualettes close the “Sound Of New Orleans  set with an acapella interpretation of “Little Boy,  another Biblical number, steeped in tradition, and taking its text from the second chapter of Luke.  The acapella arrangement offers indisputable proof that the Spiritualettes are both skill full and soulful singers.  No need to “hid behind the music - these ladies can Harmonize!
 
The Spiritualettes maintain a busy calendar of ongoing musical activities.  In addition to their weekly radio broadcast, the second Saturday of each month finds them taking their ministry of song into various nursing homes in the New Orleans area.  At least once a week or so, they take to the highway and make programs in outlying towns like Hammond, Baton Rouge, Thibodaux, and as far as Houston and Dallas, Texas, and McComb, Mississippi, where they recently appeared wtih the Sweet Singing Cavaliers of Los Angeles, California.  The Spiritualettes also sing at festivals, and their memorable appearances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival have opened doors to new audiences in Italy, France and beyond.
 
We love singing,  says Mrs. Ray summarily, “and we love being Christians, and we get a joy out of going and singing to people.  You know, sometime you can get a message through with a sermon, and sometime you can get one over with a song.   On this exemplary “Sound Of New Orleans  release, the joyous message of the New Orleans Spiritualettes comes through loud and clear.
Lynn Abbot, 1996