RIP: Charles G. Hayes

Posted February 14, 2014 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Famed gospel singer, Chicago pastor dies at the age of 76

Longtime pastor of the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer in Chicago and gospel recording artist, Charles G. Hayes, 76, passed away on February 12, 2014 for undisclosed reasons. (The family and those close to him have been tight-lipped on any type of illness related to his unexpected passing. There has yet to be published an official obituary from any media agency, publicist, music trade publication.)

Born on December 10, 1937 in Verbana, Alabama, Hayes attended schools at Siluria Jr. (now part of Alabaster) and Prentice high schools in Montevallo before making the trek to Chicago in 1957 to focus on a career as a church musician in Chicago’s rich gospel culture. Learning from a bevy of traditional, yet unorthodox church leaderships such as Pastor Clarence Cobbs and Bishop Louis Boddie, Hayes focused on church ministry by establishing the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer, from which his world-renowned traditional choir was born.

Once signing with the Savoy gospel label, Hayes and his aggregation of singers (often billed as “Cosmos” for short) recorded an impressive round of thirty albums. Many of them topped the Billboard gospel charts and one of them was certified gold, selling well over 50,000 copies (2005’s The Remix). Although many of their classic albums are no longer in print, some of them stick out as treasured pieces of their fiery, foot-stomping, sweaty traditional gospel. 1980’s Heaven Is My Goal gave way to their highly-acclaimed remake of the George Allen Jordan composition “Jesus Can Work It Out.” Originally recorded by Stax/Gospel Truth act Maceo Woods & the Christian Tabernacle Concert Choir of Chicago, the Cosmos’ spell-binding take – tagged with a frothy call-and-response vamp – became a prominent fixture in their repertoire and quickly turned the song’s lead singer Diane Williams into one of his popular recurring vocalists. The album also featured popular staples as “Pray for Me,” “Heaven Is My Goal” and a surprising remake of the Emotions’ hit, “Best of My Love.” 1992’s I’ll Never Forget gave birth to the rousing contemporary funk of Cynthia Nunn’s “They That Wait,” a sneaky “Jesus Can Work It Out”-clone (“Stepback, Let God Do It”), “Everyday is a Day of Thanksgiving” and the standout title cut.

At best, Hayes was a staunch traditionalist when it came to his gospel music output. Although the choir flirted with contemporary styles that rivaled those surrounding them, particularly the Grammy-winning Thompson Community Singers of Chicago, their spirited creations usually fell in line with colossal gospel titan James Cleveland and the uptempo workouts being birthed out of New York’s Institutional Church of God in Christ choir.

Because of their excellence in this tradition, the church choir was highly celebrated for their long run on Chicago-aired radio and television. They also performed at major musical festivals such as the Montreux, the Umbria Jazz Festival and the Chicago Gospel Festival.

Hayes’ vocals, usually touched with a quivering dash of humor and the occasional falsetto whoop of Little Richard, was burnished with a type of soulful swagger than was highly reminiscent of Cleophus Robinson, Alex Bradford and Rev. Oris Mays. That tradition of singing, hardly heard in modern-day soul and R&B records, worked perfectly in the ever busy and combustible performances of the Cosmos. He went on to lead some of the choir’s best-known selections, such as “I’ll Never Forget” (1992), “He Laid His Hands on Me” (1984), “Before I Take It Back, I’ll Add More to It” (1986) and “Resting in Jesus” (1995).

Although much of the group’s best hits were recorded on the Savoy label, the group managed to find new life on Word Records (distribution via Epic/Sony) in the late ‘90’s, recording albums such as Shout ‘Til the Walls Fall Down and Reach for It. Hayes and his choir later landed on the small independent label of MCG, releasing some of Hayes’s final recordings (2008’s Chapter One, 2012’s Back Again).

Funeral arrangements have not been announced. Hayes leaves behind two children.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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