Joe Ligon of The Mighty Clouds of Joy performs in Nashville in 2013. "He was the type of singer that would never sit down until he had torn the house up," says gospel singer Pastor Shirley Caesar.
Joe Ligon, the energetic original lead singer and co-founder of the three-time Grammy-winning group the Mighty Clouds of Joy, died Dec. 11 in Georgia. He was the electric and vibrant frontman for the Grammy award-winning group, which helped bring gospel to the mainstream.
Ligon’s passing came almost six years to the day after one of his final appearances in Indianapolis, when the Mighty Clouds of Joy appeared at a gospel concert on Dec. 10, 2010, at St. Luke’s Missionary Baptist Church.
News of Ligon’s death was announced on the group’s official website by their manger, Isaac Lindsey.
“While we mourn the loss of a very good and amazingly humble man, we also celebrate his remarkable life as one of the most successful artists in gospel music history and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to make their dreams come true, and to serve a cause greater than themselves,” Lindsey said.
Ligon was born in Troy, Ala. in 1936. He spent some time in Detroit, then moved to L.A., where he joined the Mighty Clouds of Joy and proved himself in the band. In an interview with the Malaco Music Group, Ligon revealed that he wasn't originally chosen as the group's lead singer. One night, as the group was rehearsing, the lead vocalist was having trouble with part of a song.
"I showed him how to do the part," Ligon says. "And the old man who's really responsible for our career ... was listening. And he told me that night, 'From now on, you're gonna be the lead singer.'"
Gospel star Pastor Shirley Caesar says Ligon brought a remarkable energy to his performances. "He was the type of singer that would never sit down until he had torn the house up," she says. "Just leave the house in a spiritual frenzy.
Caesar adds that no gospel singers — herself included — ever wanted to follow Ligon and his Mighty Clouds of Joy. "By the time Joe and the Clouds would've finished singing, there was really nothing left — the people were really ready to go home," she says.
Alabama-based music journalist J. Matthew Cobb also noted Ligon's singular performance style. "He always gave a fiery, Sunday-morning preacher-like delivery," he says.
The Mighty Clouds of Joy's biggest hit, "Mighty High," came out in the '70s, and Cobb says the single was emblematic of a transition gospel was going through at that time. It incorporated sounds from soul and pop music and appealed to younger and more secular audiences. Not everyone was comfortable with the change.
The Celebration of Life Services for Willie Joe Ligon, the King of Gospel Music and Founder and Lead Singer of the three time Grammy Award winning top selling Gospel group – The Mighty Clouds of Joy of Los Angeles, California will be held Wednesday, December 28, 2016 at 11:00 A.M. at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Churchlocated at 3920 West Cardinal Drive in Beaumont, Texas where the Rev., Dr. John R. Adolph is Senior Pastor. The Eulogist will be the Honorable Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., Founder and Leader of the Rainbow Push Coalition of Chicago, Illinois and the Officiant will be Bishop Neal Roberson, Gospel Recording Artist and Senior Pastor of the Church of the Harvest International of Flint, Michigan.
An All-Star Gospel Musical Celebration honoring the Life and Music of Willie Joe Ligon will be held Tuesday, December 27, 2016 at 6:00 P.M. at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church located at 3920 West Cardinal Drive in Beaumont, Texas featuring A List Artists from all over the World and the Event will be hosted by Ambassador, Dr. Bobby Jones of the Bobby Jones TV Show, Bishop Neal Roberson, & Pastor Isaac Lindsey