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ELIZABETH KING

SUNDAY, OCT. 2

Elizabeth King is a Memphis-based sacred soul and gospel singer. Possessed of a powerful, quaking contralto, she has led church services and performed weekly on gospel radio for more than four decades. King cut her first single, "Testify," for the Designer label in 1969, as well as a few others. She signed to D-Vine Spirituals in 1970 as frontwoman for the all-male Gospel Souls. The group recorded five singles and an album between 1970 and 1973, but the long-player was never released. King retired from recording and touring to raise a family. Her performing and music-making was confined to church and the airwaves. In 2019, she was contacted by her former producer Rev. Juan D. Shipp, who was working with Bible & Tire Recording Company label boss Bruce Watson. The latter signed her and she was back to work in the recording studio inside of a week. King released her debut album, Living in the Last Days in 2021, at the age of 77.

King sang from the time she could talk. At age nine, she took seriously ill and her mother literally carried her into the doctor's office, but they couldn't diagnose her illness. In bed that evening, feverish, she began singing. Her mother asked her to stop and rest, but she just kept on. The next morning, she climbed out of bed and knew there was a higher power that had intervened on her behalf. Music was the vehicle that carried King through that long night, and it became the joyful expression of her faith. She has sung in church ever since.

In 1969, she was in a serious automobile accident. A drunk driver T-boned her vehicle, causing serious injuries. She spent 17 days in the hospital and was told by attending doctors she would never walk again. She did. King attributed her miraculous healing to God. She signed a deal with the Designer label and began issuing singles, starting with 1969's "Testify." In 1970, she began fronting the all-male Gospel Souls and touring. Gospel DJ, Rev. Juan D. Shipp founded the D-Vine Spirituals label in 1972 to showcase local and regional talent. A year later, Elizabeth King & the Gospel Souls cut the hit "I Heard the Voice" for D-Vine. The track's success, combined with the success of her earlier Designer singles, netted King a Gospel Gold Cup, an annual award presented by the gospel DJs association.

King & the Gospel Souls cut a total of five singles for D-Vine Spirituals. They also recorded an album that was shelved for financial reasons. King decided to leave the music business to devote her energies to raising her growing family -- she bore 15 children in total. She continued to sing in church and on the radio. During her decades away, King was approached with offers from several labels, but declined them.

In 2019, Bruce Watson established the Bible & Tire Recording Company and built a new studio in Memphis. He entered into a working relationship with King's D-Vine label boss Shipp that involved restoring the D-Vine Spirituals master tapes. Watson had become as interested in recording modern-day sacred soul from the mid-South as he was in modern-day Delta blues recordings for Fat Possum decades earlier. Bible & Tire's third offering was the compilation The D-Vine Spirituals Recordings by Elizabeth King & the Gospel Souls. It collected all five of their singles. As Shipp further researched and detailed the current status of his artist roster at D-Vine Spirituals, he discovered that King was still singing weekly on the radio. He phoned her and asked if she would and travel to the studio to meet WatsonKing, who held paramount respect for Shipp, agreed and visited the very next day. After professing his admiration for her work, Watson asked if she was interested in recording again. Her response signaled that if Shipp was involved, she was interested. Watson signed her.

After plotting out an album, Shipp and Watson invited the Sensational Barnes Brothers into the studio to sing harmony. The young siblings had issued a self-titled offering as Bible & Tire's initial outing. The production team also brought in King's former D-Vine labelmates the Vaughn Sisters and the D-Vine Spiritualettes. With a studio band led by guitarist Will Sexton, they cut 11 songs that included re-recordings of three of King's Designer sides ("Testify for Jesus," "A Long Journey," and "Walk with Me"), covers of the Shaw Singers' "He Touched Me," Fred McDowell's blues gospel classic "You Got to Move," Rev. James Cleveland's oft-covered Civil Rights-era anthem "No Ways Tired," and the a cappella "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord," whose lyrics were drawn directly from the Book of Job. Living in the Last Days was issued in April 2021, more than 50 years after the release of King's first single.