Tuesday, June 15, 2021
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Madeline Thompson, Original Clara Ward Singer, Passes Away
By Cora Jackson-Fossett, Religion Editor
Published June 2, 2021

Madeline Thompson sings as Pastor Calvin B. Rhone listens in 2014. (Richard Nichols)

Madeline Thompson, the extremely talented, elegant and creative vocalist, passed away on May 22, in Los Angeles. She was 78-years-old.

Known internationally as the last original member of the Clara Ward Singers, Thompson joined the legendary group in 1960 and extended their fame for decades beyond the death of its famous namesake, endearing their unique sound to multiple generations.

Madeline Thompson, standing 2nd from right, with Clara Ward, seated, and the Clara Ward Singers in the 1960s. (discogs.com)

A native of Philadelphia, Thompson was beloved for her rendition of “Traveling Shoes,” a rousing gospel song she performed while dancing across the stage or up-and-down the aisles of a sanctuary. Her unique style is reflected on countless videos found on YouTube.

Madeline Thompson was a talented and stylish vocalist. (Courtesy photo)

Although she toured the world, harmonizing before huge crowds with the Clara Ward Singers, Thompson was also down-to-earth and appeared at local L.A.-area churches as much as her schedule permitted. In addition, she supported nonprofit organizations such as the local chapters of the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) and the Heritage Music Foundation (HMF), frequently participating in programs sponsored by the groups.

Madeline Thompson and Billy Preston in 2002.  (File photo)

In response to Thompson’s passing, Narvelan Coleman noted, “As the last original member of the stellar, Clara Ward Singers, founded in 1931; Madeline Thompson brought a new vitality and physicality to the already gifted music ministry of the legendary singers.

“Her distinct style and vibrancy will forever be an important component to the lasting brand of the Famous Clara Ward Singers. Madeline…. you can take off your ‘Traveling Shoes.’ You’ve finally made it home,” said Coleman, who is the HMF archivist/historian. Dr. Margaret P. Douroux is the HMF founder and Dr. April B. Parker is the executive director.

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In 2018, Coleman introduced her grandson, Isaiah Williams, to Thompson during a HMF event at the California African American Museum. “Ms. Thompson was elated and excited to connect with someone from a much younger generation who was aware of the contributions to gospel music made by the history-making Clara Ward Singers,” recalled Coleman.

Madeline Thompson with 14-year-old Isaiah Williams at the California African American Museum in 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Two services to celebrate Thompson’s life will be held at Academy Cathedral, 3141 W. Manchester Blvd., in Inglewood. The Rev. Dr. Elaine Britt is the host pastor.

On Sunday, June 6, a viewing will be available at 5 p.m. “Traveling Shoes: The Commemorative Cantata” takes place at 6 p.m. According to a spokesperson, attendees are requested to wear elegant black attire.

Thompson’s homegoing celebration is set for Monday, June 7, at 11 a.m., with the eulogy delivered by her grandson, Elder Cecil Thompson. The viewing will be at 10 a.m. Women are asked to wear “elegant white” and men “black suits,” said the spokesperson. Also, masks will be required and CDC guidelines will be followed at both services.

Condolences, resolutions and expressions of love may be emailed to [email protected]

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Categories: Religion
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