An outpouring of grief hit the gospel music community as news spread of the passing of legendary commentator, Edna Tatum. She died on March 14 after experiencing health complications from a heart attack suffered in October 2013. She was 70 years old.
Nationally known as ‘The Voice,’ Tatum was a popular emcee and gospel broadcaster for more than 30 years.
Her ministry spanned several decades of hosting concerts and narrating for gospel legends such as the Rev. James Cleveland, The Fourth of Mary, the Rev. Daryl Coley, Albertina Walker, and Kurt Carr.
“Edna was a classy person with a beautiful, rich voice. She knew how to present the talents of our culture, no matter what the genre was,” said her pastor, Bishop L. Daniel Williams of the Baptist Church of the New Covenant.
“Her passing is such a shock to the nation. I didn’t know it was that imminent. I just saw her the day before she passed and didn’t expect things to change so quickly,” continued Bishop Williams, who called Tatum his “right hand staff person” in her role as administrative assistant at his church.
“I’ve known Edna for a very long time and she was just a nice person. She’s really going to be missed,” said Rodena Preston-Williams, L.A. Chapter Representative of the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA).
Tatum and Preston-Williams worked closely with the late Rev. Cleveland, founder of the GMWA. According to her biography, the Rev. Cleveland recognized her talents and requested that she personally introduce him and the Southern California Community Choir at concerts and on recordings.
Offering his condolences, the Rev. Dr. Melvin V. Wade of Mount Moriah Baptist Church, noted, “Not only is a good Christian D.J. gone, but a dear, dear friend, one that was very knowledgeable and sensitive to her craft. She took pride in the people of her city. It’s so ironic that she waited until the conclusion of the GMWA Board meeting to go to glory.” The meeting took place in Los Angeles on March 10-13.
Quaford Coleman, one of Tatum’s closest friends, commented, “Edna's unique voice, style and the ability to introduce a song, whether it was on radio, on record or in person, made her one of a kind. She carved out a place in gospel music history that will never be forgotten. We will miss her dearly.”
In January, Coleman, Preston-Williams, and Bishop Williams sponsored ‘A Service of Love, Praise and Prayer’ to salute Tatum’s career as well as assist with her medical expenses. A standing-room-only crowd turned out for the event.
“The world has lost an incredible chronicler of gospel history. Edna is now telling our story in the majestic halls of heaven,” said the Rev. Shirley LaCour of the Clara Ward Singers.
Tatum’s impact was also felt beyond the gospel community. During her long career at the State of California Department of Rehabilitation, she established close relationships with many people.
“To say that we will miss her is an understatement,” her former co-workers, Ruth Bragg, Elethea Cunningham and Carol Spear wrote in a statement.
“Our friendship spanned over 40 years and we will keep the memories of the times we shared at brunches, luncheons, dinners, family events, and other ‘get-togethers’ in our thoughts always. You are forever in our hearts.”
Spear added, “Although Edna went on to become a nationally known orator, radio personality, and recording artist, she never forgot that special group of friends from the ‘old days.’ I now have peace knowing that we will see each other again in Heaven!”
In a 2011 Sentinel interview, Tatum shared some of the most memorable moments in her career.
“I will always treasure learning and growing in Christ during my time with the great Rev. Cleveland. Then, never will I forget performing live narration for Rev. Cleveland at Carnegie Hall, at three McDonald’s Gospel Festivals and being a guest host each year at the Chicago Gospel Festival before more than 200,000 people,” recalled Tatum.
“Equally memorable is being able to record a CD with the famous Billy Preston. Our song, ‘Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,’ was a wonderful and unforgettable collaboration,” she said.
In addition to being a guest commentator for choirs across the country, Tatum also holds the sole distinction of narrating a gospel music concert at the Sultan’s Pool in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Tatum’s reputation grew internationally through her Gospel Classic broadcast on KPFK-FM 90.7, streamed live around the world on kpfk.org.
Her visitation and viewing will be on Tuesday, March 25, at 5 p.m., at Mount Moriah, 4269 South Figueroa Street in Los Angeles. A Tribute Musical will follow the viewing at 7 p.m.
The homegoing service will take place on Wednesday, March 26, at 10 a.m., at Mount Moriah. Bishop Williams will deliver the eulogy. Simpson Mortuary in Los Angeles has been entrusted with her body.
Condolences may be sent in care of Mount Moriah. For information, call the church office at (323) 846-1950.