Raymond Anthony Myles

New Orleans Gospel Genius

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At the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival's gospel tent, the size of the crowd told you when the city's favorite gospel son was performing. No one drew a crowd like the charismatic Raymond Anthony Myles. Often likened to Little Richard, Myles -- with his flamboyant wardrobe, luminescent smile, and incredible voice -- was the consummate performer. But you cannot hold a gospel audience unless you sing about Jesus from the heart; Myles did that too. With his superb backup choir, the R.A.M. Singers, Myles would work his enthusiastic audiences into a screaming frenzy, all for the glory of the Lord. That is over now; sadly, the beloved gospel singer was murdered in the French Quarter of his own city in 1997. The brutal slaying remains unsolved. His legacy lives on in his two CDs. The better-known disc is the acclaimedHeaven Is the Place, recorded shortly before his death. But his first CD, New Orleans Gospel Genius, shows that he was exactly that. It is a must-have for anyone who enjoyed his later work or likes high-energy, R&B-influenced gospel music. Myles grew up in the gospel tradition. His mother, Christine Myles, was once the most famous female gospel star in the city. Myles served for a time as the organist at the renowned Greater St. Stephens Full Gospel Baptist Church. The boy who once sang at Mahalia Jackson's funeral never forgot his mother or her influence. It can be heard on the CD's most compelling traditional cut, "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." The singer's voice, which goes from sweet and low to a scream that is off the charts, must be heard to be believed. The CD also features his wildly popular signature tune, the swinging "I Have a Rock." Myles liked to preface the song with a story about going for a hamburger and being protected from drug dealers with their "rocks" by his Rock of Ages. Many a young person's life was influenced by that song. If heaven is the place, New Orleans' gospel genius must be there.

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