The Clouds were the first Gospel group to perform on
"Soul Train." "We were very nervous that the public
wouldn't understand our Soul Train performance," says Joe Ligon.
"When our disco hit, 'Mighty High,' was played, we were shocked at
the reaction of the kids dancing." Joe adds, "We were ahead of
our time. Now it's one of our most requested songs. The diehard Gospel
fans gave us flack like you wouldn't believe it wasn't churchy enough
for them. They said we'd sold out and gone funky."
But the Clouds stuck to their guns, and soon were
taking Gospel to places it seldom, if ever, had been. Over the years,
they have won multiple Grammy awards and opened for the likes of Marvin
Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Earth,
Wind & Fire,
The Rolling Stones and Paul Simon, whom they backed
for a month at New York's Madison Square Garden. And the "funkified"
Gospel they had pioneered gradually became accepted as a standard part
of Gospel music.
The Clouds hold the distinction of being the most
visible of any Gospel act in history, performing on nearly every major
television show in America, including "The Grammy Awards,"
"The Stellar Awards," "CBS Special," "Prime
Time Country," "PBS Special," "The Johnny Cash
Show," "Mike Douglas Show," "Merv Griffin
Show," "Lou Rawls Parade of Stars," and the "Arsenio
Joe Ligon, the group's leader, was born in Troy,
Alabama, where he lived until his early teens. Born with a natural
singing talent, he was too shy to perform in public, preferring to
vocalize only around the house and in the fields. When a group of his
singing cousins asked him to join them, it was Joe's mother who insisted
he agree, unknowingly launching one of the greatest careers in Gospel
music. It was Joe's father who inspired "Live In Charleston"'s
lead off single, "Meeting Tonight." According to Joe, his
father would walk through the town shouting "There's gonna be a big
meeting tonight with all the preachers." He was referring to what
is now called a Revival, a week long Church service of fellowship,
worship and praise. Joe adds, "My father would shout throughout the
town every August, 'There's gonna be a meeting tonight.'"
Joe, at age 14, headed west to Los Angeles for a visit
with an uncle that turned into a long-term residence. His uncle, by
prior agreement with his mother, re-enrolled the youngster in school,
where he soon met other boys who shared his gift for the song, including
the now-deceased Cloud, Johnny Martin. They were taken under his wing
and tutored in the art of four-part Gospel harmony by a neighbor who saw
the boys' potential. The man took a fatherly liking to the youngsters,
and they formed a foursome, singing in the neighborhood and throughout
the Southwest for four years.
Still in their late teens, the group was heard by a
local Gospel deejay who did the first rudimentary recordings of the
group, which he sent to Peacock Records, home to the
Blind Boys, the
Nightingales and the Dixie Hummingbirds, among other classic Gospel acts
of the day. Sensing something fresh and unique in the Clouds, Peacock
was quick to sign them, and their first single in 1960, "Steal Away
to Jesus," was followed in 1961 by their debut album, "Family
Overflowing with energy on stage, the Mighty Clouds
of Joy were one of the first quartets to incorporate movement and
choreography into their act. With matching, brightly color-coordinated
outfits, the Clouds coupled a new level of showmanship with their
ministry, even becoming known as "the Temptations of Gospel."
Since they formed in 1955 and first began recording in
1960, the Mighty Clouds of Joy have endured many musical trends.
They were the first to add bass, drums and keyboards to the traditional
quartet accompaniment of solo electric guitar. Though more traditional
members of Gospel audiences were critical, the Clouds stuck to their
commitment to be different from the pack, and they reigned supreme. More
innovations causing controversy followed for some time to come.
"The lyrics were always a very strong Gospel message," says
Joe, "but the music was a long way from 'Will the Circle Be
After more than 40 years singing the Gospel, the Mighty
Clouds of Joy still have the power to excite and inspire their
ever-increasing following. "We see ourselves as singers who
minister to the people and encourage them that the Lord is real and
there for us, and that commitment has only grown stronger over the
years," says Joe.
"People today seem hungry for much more than
entertainment. With all the terrible things happening in the world now,
their souls are looking for nourishment...for something to believe in.
That spark that only the Holy Spirit can give you is still burning
strong in us," Joe concludes. "If we ever lost that, we might
as well pack it in and go home."
In 1993, the group, who had worked with James Bullard
since 1979, signed with Intersound and released "Power" and
received a Grammy nomination for Best Gospel Group.
On January 26, 1996, Quartet music supporters gathered
in Birmingham, Alabama, for the Fourth Annual American Gospel Convention
Awards Night and Hall of Fame Inductions. Joe Ligon was inducted and
presented The Key To The City Of Birmingham.
Later in the year they would join
Brothers and Slim & The Supreme Angels in an historic recording,
Gospel SuperBowl Concert in Atlanta, Georgia, released as a collectors
album, "Together As One: A Tribute To The Heritage of Quartet
Music," reaching number three on Billboard charts.
Today, the Mighty Clouds of Joy are still
touring worldwide as they continue to stay true to their form of singing
Quartet as well as contemporary Gospel.