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Family Gospel Group Continues Its Legacy

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

Legacy CD coverThe long-awaited “Legacy” CD is now completeThe James Family Singers, a West Michigan gospel music group more than a half-century old, has released a new collection of songs which builds on its distinguished legacy.

"We started taking about this project way back in 2014," said Marvis James, 72, one of several patriarchs in the talented chorale. "We're getting older and we wanted to leave something behind as a musical legacy for the nieces and nephews and others."

So the title of the 11-song CD, "Legacy," is a natural and resonates on numerous levels.

Several of the anthems, such as "The Lord's Prayer" and "Center of My Joy" are songs the family group has performed for decades, yet has never recorded.

That's understandable, since their previous album dates back to 1993.


Oscar and Erma James, Marvis's parents, moved to West Michigan in 1962, joining several of their adult children who were already here. Back in Mississippi they'd been part of The Heavenly Travelers, a quartet-style gospel group. When Mom and Dad and the younger kids moved north, the task of rekindling the family ensemble became a long term goal.

Slowly assembling their burgeoning musical talents, the newly-named James Family Singers officially debuted in 1981 with a concert at their home church - New Hope Baptist in Grand Rapids. "We did a kind of medley of songs from the old quartet days, and brought it all the way to the present day," Marvis recalls.

As family members grew, married and raised children, there were new voices and talents to incorporate. "Legacy" features more than two dozen voices and instrumentalists. The current line-up includes singers with ages from the late teens to the 80s.


A key figure in the family "legacy" theme is Kenneth Reynolds. The songwriter/arranger, producer, and worship leader passed away last summer after doing a lot of the work on the CD project. He shares producer credit with his cousin Debra Perry and brother Troy Reynolds.

"He played bass on all but two of the songs, did arranging....Ken's prints are all over this project," said Debra, who owns and manages the Joint Heir Music Studios in Grand Rapids where the album was recorded. "His presence is really felt."

Reynolds was a worship pastor at ResLIfe Church in Grandville at the time of his passing. The "Legacy" CD sleeve is laid out as a family photo album, with a page dedicated to Kenneth's memory.


Most of the songs are original compositions by family members. "No One Like You" and "On Christ the Solid Rock" were written by Debra's brother Gerald Perry.
The Troy Reynolds rhythmic song "Victory" was originally placed on his brother Ken's first solo album. "I wrote it 20 years ago – first the chorus and then worked on it as the years went by," he said. Troy rearranged the song for the new recording, and his sister Beverly sings lead vocals.

"Triumph" is another song indicative of collaborative effort. The "beats" were originally laid down by Aaron James. Reynolds added lyrics and vocal arrangements, and he worked with Aaron and Debra Perry on arranging the music. The family sang background vocals behind the leads of Marvis James and Ben Reynolds.
Even the cover songs (such as the ballad "I'll Be Alright" and the Richard Smallwood composition "Center of My Joy") pay homage to the originals within their newer arrangements.

The total result is a musically diverse package. "Some contemporary, some of older songs, and public domain," James noted. "We really think these songs will satisfy a lot of audiences."


Although the number of performances has decreased in recent years, the James Family still regroups for concerts - many of them benefits for faith-based or other organizations. Two years ago they performed "virtually" for an event sponsored by Humanity for Prisoners (HFP), a Christian ministry which advocates for incarcerated persons.

Even though "Legacy" will not be the subject of any high-flying marketing, the new album will be a treasure for the younger generation.

But with the boost offered by a fresh recording, the call to a more active concert itinerary could well come again.

It would be the next step in building on the family legacy.
"Legacy" is now available on all digital outlets.
Physical copies of the CD are $10. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details on how to get a copy.
Check out this informative video at https://youtu.be/EmAabRjNEKs
Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Author: Terry DeBoer
Terry is a journalist/feature writer for newspapers, magazines and websites, with a background in radio broadcasting. His usual beat is arts and entertainment, specializing in Christian/gospel music. A married father of two, he is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan Contributing Writer: West Michigan Christian News August 2011 – Present Feature writer: -Mlive.com (website and various newspapers) 1988– 2016 -Spotlight New Christian Music Magazine 1997-2008 -Church News Editor, Church Herald Magazine 2004-2009

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