Library adds three more gospel legends to its collection of oral history interviews

  • Lady Tramaine Hawkins
  • Ambre Dromogoole interviews Richard Smallwood
  • Libby Van Cleve, Michael Morand, and Lady Tramaine Hawkins
  • Ambre Dromogoole
  • Richard Smallwood and Braxton Shelley
  • BeBe Winans
May 13, 2024

Since 1969, Yale’s Oral History in American Music (OHAM) project been collecting and preserving interviews with major musicians and composers in multiple genres—from classical and jazz to avant-garde. Since 2022, through collaborations with Yale’s Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church, OHAM has also been steadily building a collection of video interviews with notable musicians of gospel and sacred music.

This month, OHAM added three Grammy Award–winning artists to its roster: Lady Tramaine Hawkins, Richard Smallwood, and BeBe Winans. Ambre Dromgoole, MAR ’17 and PhD ’23, assistant professor of Africana religions and music in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University, conducted the interviews. With these three additions, there are now 30 interviews with gospel greats in OHAM’s collection.

Lady Tramaine Hawkins

Lady Tramaine Hawkins began singing at her grandfather’s church in San Francisco at age four. She and her middle-school friends formed a gospel group called The Heavenly Tones and recorded an album and a 45. The older brother of one group member, Sylvester “Sly” Stone, invited the Heavenly Tones to sing background for his band. Later, rather than tour with the popular Sly and the Family Stone, Hawkins chose to pursue gospel music.

She won her first Grammy Award in 1981 for “The Lord’s Prayer,” performed with her husband, Walter. She was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 1999 and has won 2 Grammy Awards, 2 Dove Awards, and 19 Stellar Awards. In 2021, she won the Aretha Franklin Icon Award. She has performed with several recording artists, include with MC Hammer on his pop-gospel hit “Do Not Pass Me By” and with Carlos Santana on his album “Spirits Dancing in the Flesh.” Hawkins sang at the funeral of entertainment legend Sammy Davis Jr. in 1990 and at the funeral of civil rights activist Rosa Parks in 2005.

Richard Smallwood

Richard Smallwood began his career as a performer while a student at Howard University—as a founding member of the first gospel choir on campus. In 1982, his first album “The Richard Smallwood Singers” was on Billboard’s gospel chart for 87 weeks. His next two albums, “Psalms” and “Textures,” were both nominated for Grammy Awards. He has performed alongside many artists in various genres, including opera legend Leontyne Price, “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin, and fellow gospel superstars Tramaine Hawkins and the Clark Sisters.

Smallwood won his first Grammy and a Dove Award for his production on Quincy Jones’s “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration.” He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2006. The award-winning book “Healing for the Soul: Richard Smallwood, the Vamp, and the Gospel Imagination” by Braxton Shelley—associate professor of Music, Sacred Music, and Divinity at Yale University—analyzes the structure and influence of Smallwood’s popular song “Healing.” Smallwood holds a dual B.A. degree in classical voice performance and piano from Howard University, where he also pursued graduate work in ethnomusicology. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from that university in 2004.

Benjamin “BeBe” Winans

BeBe Winans, born in Detroit, Michigan, is a member of a family full of gospel music artists. He is an inspirational singer-songwriter of gospel, R&B, and Christian music. In 1988, he and his sister CeCe Winans became the first gospel artists to have a No. 1 album on the Billboard sales charts. In 1989, he won his first Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance for his vocals on a track on his brother Ronald’s “Family & Friends Choir.” Winans began his solo career in 1997. The six-time Grammy Award winner has since recorded nine albums. In 2003 he started his own record label, The Movement Group.

Winans is also the host of “The BeBe Experience with BeBe Winans,” a Sunday morning radio show for Sirius XXM’s “Heart & Soul.” Winans made his film debut in 2004 as an FBI agent in “The Manchurian Candidate” with Denzel Washington. In 2008 he starred as Harpo in “The Color Purple” on Broadway. His book, “The Whitney I Knew,’ published in 2012, is about his longtime close friend singer Whitney Houston. Winans wrote and co-produced “Jesus Loves Me,” which Houston sung in the film and on the soundtrack for “The Bodyguard” and which earned Winan a Grammy.

The OHAM gospel collection

OHAM’s gospel collection is the result of a collaboration with Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music and the Department of Music, as part of the Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church, which was launched by Braxton Shelley in 2021. These videotaped interviews with Lady Tramaine Hawkins, Richard Smallwood, and BeBe Winans will become part of OHAM’s Major Figures in American Music Collection, which now comprises more than 3,000 recorded interviews with prominent composers and musicians, dating from 1970 to the present day.

Read more about Braxton Shelly and about the Institute of Sacred Music’s Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church

Many of the interviews in the OHAM collection—including Ambre Dromgoole’s interview with the Clark Sisters—can be streamed online using the Aviary platform. For information on how to access the interviews, view interview tables of contents, or request interview transcripts, select the tab “Accessing OHAM” in the collection guide

—Deborah Cannarella

Images: Group photo (left to right): Ambre Dromogoole, Nicole Davis, Nicholas Wantsala, Lady Tramaine Hawkins, Michael Morand, Libby Van Cleve. Group photo and photos of Ambre Dromgoole, Lady Tramaine Hawkins, and BeBe Winans by Robert Lisak; photos of Richard Smallwood and Braxton Shelley by Judy Sirota Rosenthal