The Mighty Clouds of Joy were formed in 1960 and started out in a tradition-based style. Eventually they added soul, R&B, and rock flourishes into their musical mix (one of their early hits was produced by Philadelphia soul czars Gamble and Huff) without diluting the essential religious essence of their material.
The long-lived group flourished throughout the rest of the 20th century, scoring numerous Grammy awards and nominations, as well as several hit albums along the way.
The Mighty Clouds of Joy were formed in Los Angeles during the mid-’50s by schoolmates Joe Ligon and Johnny Martin; while still in their teens, the original group — which also included brothers Ermant and Elmo Franklin, Leon Polk and Richard Wallace — made their recorded debut in 1960 with “Steal Away to Jesus,” cut for the Peacock label. Their debut LP Family Circle arrived a year later. In the years that followed, the Mighty Clouds earned a reputation among gospel’s greatest showmen; one of the first groups to incorporate choreographed moves into their act, their nimble footwork and bright, color-coordinated outfits earned them the sobriquet “The Temptations of Gospel.”
Based in Los Angeles, California, the original group members include Joe Ligon, Johnny Martin (died 1987), Ermant Franklin Jr., Artis Turnbough (died 1999), Elmo Franklin (died 2008), Richard Wallace, Rodney Hamilton, Leon Polk and David Walker (who also recorded several tracks with Link Wray under the name “Bunker Hill”). Tony Jeter original member in 1989 left the group later that year because of money disputes.
Their crossover success continued with opening slots for secular pop stars including Marvin Gaye, the Rolling Stones and Paul Simon, whom the group backed during a month-long stint at Madison Square Garden. While lineup changes plagued the Mighty Clouds throughout their career, they remained active through the 1990s; in addition to co-founders Ligon and Wallace, their latter-day incarnation also included Michael McCowin, Wilbert Williams, Johnny Valentine and Ron Staples.
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