One Last Call-and-Response Song With Ray Charles
Led to Lead Backup Singer Heeding God’s Call
By Shekini Jennings, MMS News
Beating the tambourine was nothing new to Dr. Mable John. She had done it for years growing up in the Pentecostal church. But something extraordinarily supernatural happened the last day she did it as the lead backup singer for Ray Charles in 1976.
Following Charles’ famous closing call-and-response song, “What I Say” he ended with the line she’d become accustomed to answering for nearly 10 years: “Baby, let’s go home.” She and the other Raelettes would always answer him with a rousing and melodious repeat, “Baby, let’s go home.”
But this night while exiting the stage she heard an audible voice that was louder than the instruments, singing, and cheering crowd. God boomed: “Let’s go home. I have work for you to do.”
“I told the group and they thought I’d lost my mind,” said the 77-year-old Louisiana-native who now lives in California. “They said, ‘We’re all going home, Mable.”
The three months following this pre-Christmas calling from God in the late 1970’s would prove to be among the most difficult of her life. She had been a devoted Christian since childhood, and had sung Gospel and secular music professionally for more than two decades with the support of her equally devoted family.
She’d sung with some of Gospel music’s most famous people, made her mark as Motown’s first female recording artist, and had written more than 52 songs with Ray Charles. But now she had to make a choice to stop everything in order to understand clearly what God wanted her to do with the next phase of her life. Unbeknownst to her at the time it would include pastoring and novel writing. (She is the author of Sanctified Blues and Stay Out of the Kitchen published under Random House)
So, in March she had a tearful meeting with Ray Charles to tell him she could no longer be his lead backup singer and director of the Raelettes. It was difficult to leave the group of women for whom she’d served as a protective second mother. But it was even tougher for her to feel like she was abandoning a man who’d already endured a life of tragedy.
“I didn’t know how (Ray) was going to take it,” John said. “Everyone else he was close to … either died or just left. I didn’t want him to take it as abandonment. But, he took it just as I prayed he would. He supported my ministry until he died.”
While she was relieved to have Charles’ support, the sibling of famous Blues Singer Little Willie John wasn’t sure how she’d be received by others. She wasn’t even sure that she wanted to totally yield to God’s plans.
“I didn’t want to (be a preacher),” said John who owns Fourth House Music and Otis Music Publishing Group and administers 20 other music publishing companies. “I didn’t like preachers because I’d seen too much dirt from preachers who say one thing and do another. And, I was worried that people wouldn’t accept me because I sang the blues. The older people said Blues was the Devil’s music and if you sang it you were going to Hell. But God told me to tell people about Him, not about me.”
So, that’s exactly what she’s been doing since the late 1980s as an ordained minister for Joy in Jesus Church in California with a doctorate in counseling, and through her leadership of Joy Community Outreach to End Homelessness.
She’s also spreading God’s word through another source she never expected: novels. She is co-author of Sanctified Blues and her newest co-publication, Stay Out of the Kitchen, which is loosely based on her life told through the character Albertina Merci.
“I never intended to write a novel,” John said. “I only wanted to do one book to tell my family story. But David Ritz said the way I explained the Bible and handled people he had a vision that I was the spiritual Angela Lansbury of Murder, She Wrote because I solve the mysteries of the heart. So, he wrote the first book and heard from the publisher within six hours when we originally thought it would take six months.”
Three months prior John had baptized Ritz, a Jewish man, in the presence of 70 other Jewish visitors and pop star, singer Janet Jackson.
So, looking back, she doesn’t regret the tough decision she made more than 30 years ago to obey God’s audible voice on stage with Ray Charles. She has also kept the promise she made to her mother during her years singing secular music.
“My mother knew the singing gift (whether Gospel or secular) came from the Lord,” John said. “She just said she prayed I didn’t go into the world or go crazy and to just hold on to the teaching and training she had given me. She knew I knew the Lord. She just didn’t want me to stray from Him. I never did drugs, smoked cigarettes, or drank alcohol even though I was in the midst of everything that was going on. God kept me that way.”
For more info on Dr. Mable John go to www.mablejohn.com
For more info about the book (Stay Out of the Kitchen) or to get the press kit online: go to www.ministrymarketingsolutions.com (press kits)