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Joy and Praise: The McLendon legacy

In 1947, a teenaged Goldwire McLendon took the train alone from Jacksonville, where he was a tenor in a gospel quartet, up to Philadelphia. There he met his wife, Ruth Byrd, a seamstress and mezzo soprano, at church. Ruth later co-founded The Savettes Choral Ensemble, a women-led singing group and savings club for home purchases and other self-reliance needs within the local spiritual community. The McLendons raised five children and traveled around the East Coast as members of The Savettes, achieving regional success as "Philadelphia's Own."

The period in America following World War II had awakened a golden age for gospel music. Urban centers became hotbeds of church activity that provided spiritual and material needs of their communities as more Black people migrated from the South. Local gospel was widespread, but the vast majority of acts like The Savettes had scant reputation beyond their own church or region. The McLendon family experience is emblematic: They sang in churches and homes, and outfitted their very own Godmobile, a passenger van converted into a mobile street ministry, complete with a generator-powered organ. Their talent was divine. God was at its center.

Goldwire and Ruth McLendon's dedication to music and ministry carried into future generations. Their son, Antonio, toured with acclaimed gospel singer Andrae Crouch. Antonio's daughter, Samara Joy, has risen to global stardom as a jazz vocalist. As Samara's talent keeps reaching new heights, she draws ever closer to her family as a wellspring of inspiration. She recently toured with The McLendon Family, presenting a holiday program that showcased three generations of family, community and spirit.

Philadelphia was the penultimate stop on that tour. While they were in town, WRTI brought Elder Goldwire, Antonio and Samara together in fellowship at Mother Bethel AME Church, one of the historic sacred spaces in America. The conversation, featuring three generations of McLendons, is playful, nostalgic, spirited and purposeful — and, no surprise, also musical.

This interview and video were made possible through the generous support of WETA in partnership with GOSPEL.

Copyright 2024 WRTI . To see more, visit WRTI.

Alex Ariff
Josh Jackson
Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for content at WRTI in Philadelphia.