James Phelps Biography

James PhelpsClaim to Fame: Gospel and R&B singer
DOB: April 2, 1932
Date of Death: October 26, 2010
Diabetes Type: Unknown

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1932, James Phelps was a talented R&B and Gospel singer known for his collaborative work with Lou Rawls and Sam Cooke, and for his roles in the gospel groups, Clefs of Cavalry and the Soul Stirrers.

The only musically talented child in a family of eight children, Phelps began his career in his teens, leaving Louisiana and moving to Chicago, where he believed he would have better luck entering the music industry. After performing with a number of gospel groups, Phelps joined the Gospel Songbirds, an influential and popular gospel band. However, Phelps broke with the Gospel Songbirds to join another up-in-coming group, the Holy Wonders. It is with this younger, more energetic group that Phelps met and developed a close friendship with Lou Rawls. When Rawls left the Holy Wonders, Phelps set out to organize his own group, the Clefs of Cavalry.

The formation of the Clefs of Cavalry proved beneficial, with the group recording two albums, “Baptized' in 1962 and 'God's Light' in 1963. In 1965, the group released their most successful single, "Love is a Five-Letter Word” with Chess Records. Unfortunately, despite their success, the group failed to stay together and Phelps joined with Sam Cooke’s band, the Soul Stirrers.

Phelps had an extensive solo career that, though unsuccessful, was diverse and resulted in his involvement with many influential figures. In 1972, Phelps attempted to return to his origins and separate himself from the commercialized music industry by performing and recording under a private label.

On October 26, 2010, it was revealed that Phelps, who suffered from diabetes and had been admitted to a Los Angeles hospital, had died as a result of complications due to diabetes. Phelps was 78 at the time of death.

Learn about other musicians with diabetes.

Last Modified Date: November 28, 2012

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by Brenda Bell
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