The Gospel
According to Los Angeles


By Anne Burke, Photos by Ann Johansson

Published Apr 1, 2006 12:00 PM

Parishioner Carol Blackwell (in hat) prays at the Crenshaw Boulevard cathedral.

Southern California’s gospel history-makers also include UCLA alumna Vicki Lataillade ’80, who started the Gospo Centric label with a $6,000 loan from her father’s civil-service pension. In the early 1990s, Lataillade signed an up-and-comer from Texas named Kirk Franklin, who was pushing the boundaries of Christian music by mixing gospel and hip-hop. Franklin’s first single, “Why We Sing,” tore up the gospel charts and then the R&B charts. James Roberson, a UCLA professor who directs the African-American Music Ensemble and runs his own Los Angeles-based gospel label, JDI Records, said the success of Franklin and Gospo Centric had an immediate impact. “It turned heads toward the West Coast as the place where good gospel music is coming from,” Roberson says.

Today, Franklin is arguably gospel’s biggest star, but his goals go beyond making hit records. Franklin is on a mission to save young people from Satan, and he has chosen Los Angeles as the stage from which to carry out his work. Twice a month, he flies here from Dallas to minister to youth at Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood. The service is called “The Takeover” and is held in a 1,100-seat hall at Faithful Central’s sprawling complex on Florence Avenue. Teens by the hundreds — spiffed up as if for Friday night and clutching Bibles — pour into Franklin’s service, which features urban-flavored gospel music and hip-hop dancers. Franklin is there to preach and not sing, but he borrows from his in-concert persona, leaping and gyrating on stage.

Singing the Praises of Gospel in L.A.

From left to right: Jahmalie Smith, far left, comforts Monique Landers; Sean Byous does the same for Andre Sanders at gospel star Kirk Franklin's youth service at Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood; Brooks performs gospel hip-hop at Klub Zyon in Leimert Park; Franklin preaches at Faithful Central Bible Church.

Earl Amos Pleasant’s wife, Olga, taught all of her six children to sing and play piano, but daughter Margaret Pleasant Douroux, born in 1941, took to music in a special way. In the early 1960s, Douroux wrote a song called “Give Me a Clean Heart” that launched her career as a great gospel composer.

Douroux is founder of the Heritage Music Foundation and music minister at Greater New Bethel Baptist, a small Inglewood congregation that her brother, Earl, pastors. Her consuming passion is to build for gospel music a home befitting an art form that has contributed so mightily to American culture.

Douroux envisions a hall of fame, concert hall, library and educational wing rising from the pavement in the heart of black Los Angeles. “As I travel around the country, everyone has a concert hall or an educational institution that black America identifies with,” she says. “But not Los Angeles.”