Elder Goldwire McLendon spent seven decades ministering to people in song and words before he had the opportunity to minister on a world-wide stage as a contestant on Season 3 of BET’s Sunday Best, the world’s leading gospel competition television show. The spirited and charismatic 79-year-old gained a large and devoted group of fans as he made his way toward the show’s finale, where he was first-runner-up to Le’Andria Johnson. Now, at age 81, he has a recording contract with Mathew Knowles’ Music World Gospel, which will release his first solo CD, The Best of Elder Goldwire McLendon. The CD, which features new recordings of songs he performed on Sunday Best, will be available online and in stores on April 24, 2012.
On the CD, Elder McLendon puts a contemporary spin on traditional and classic gospel songs, which were all produced by Stanley Brown. McLendon offers a hand-clapping, foot-stomping rendition of “He’s All Over Me.” Written by Alvin Darling, this song gained international exposure when it was performed by Whitney Houston and Shirley Caesar in the movie The Preacher’s Wife. He says the song has a special meaning to him. “It expresses how I really feel because I know that the spirit of the Lord is all over me and it’s keeping me alive—literally.” He performs a soulful rendition of “The Battle Is The Lord’s,” putting his own stamp on a signature song of gospel great Yolanda Adams, which was written by V. Michael McKay. McLendon’s contemplative and worshipful version of the classic, “How Great Thou Art,” written by Carl Boberg and Max Morris, is followed by a lively take on Edwin Hawkins’ gospel treasure, “Oh Happy Day.” His performance of “I Know It Was The Blood,” written by Chester D.T. Baldwin, takes him back to the church songs of his youth, and he takes the listener along for the ride. “The song has been a part of my nature ever since I first heard it as a kid,” he says. “I wanted to bring some of that old-time gospel to my version of the song.” He rounds out the CD with an upbeat rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Jesus Be A Fence Around Me,” and a soulful take on the Staple Singers’ classic (written by Alvertis Isbell), “I’ll Take You There,” which McLendon performed with Le’Andria Johnson on Sunday’s Best. “It was really something,” he says of that duet.
McLendon auditioned for Sunday Best when the show came to Philadelphia, where he lives. He says he was encouraged to audition for Sunday Best by one of his spiritual daughters. “When she told me I should audition, I told her I had never heard of the show and that I was too old,” he says. “But she kept pleading with me until I said okay.” His daughter, Patsy, and granddaughter Tiera, who came up from Augusta, Georgia, also auditioned for the show that day. Neither made it through the preliminary rounds, but they stayed to cheer him on. “There I was, standing before Donnie McClurkin, Kim Burrell, Tina Campbell, and Kirk Franklin, and when I finished singing, Kim Burrell almost fell out of her seat,” he recalls. “Then Donnie McClurkin said ‘Well put on your Sunday Best and meet me in New Orleans.’ It was quite an experience.
He describes his time with the other contestants on the show as “joyous and prayerful.” He adds that as he progressed through the show, he could hardly believe he was there. “I would say, ‘is this happening to Goldwire, a 79-year-old-man?’ I had to pinch myself to see if I was alive and if this was real.” After the show, McLendon travel around the country ministering in song. His tour took him as far west as Beaumont, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada, and south to Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida. In Jacksonville, he had a role in a production of, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which starred Clifton Davis, Regina Belle and others.
During that road trip he discovered that he had a diverse fan base that included people of every age—including celebrities. He’s especially popular with the ladies. “We were in a large venue in Cincinnati, and when we came into the lobby, I looked to the other end, where they had opened the door, and the women were running toward me,” he says. “They wanted to hug me, they want my picture, they wanted my autograph. Oh it was an awesome experience—just awesome.” He says that in Las Vegas, he got a hug from gospel great Vanessa Bell Armstrong. He was thrilled because he had been a long-time fan of hers and now is his label mate.
The next highpoint in his musical journey came when he received a call saying that Music World Gospel wanted to sign him. “When I learned about the Music World contract, you should have seen me,” he recalls. “Me and my daughter were stomping the floor, and holding our mouths because we wanted to scream. I carried on and she did too.”
McLendon was born in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was raised by his father and began singing in church when he was nine. He comes from a musical family. His father was a pianist and his mother was a singer. At 16, he helped organized an all-male quartet, the Cosmopolitan Gospel Singers, he sang with them for a year until he left Florida when he was 17, to go live with his mother in Philadelphia .
In 1963, his wife, Ruth, organized the Savettes Club, which was designed to reunite women who had grown up together as friends in the ministry. They would sing at every meeting until one of the members suggested that they should sing for a bigger audience than themselves. They invited their husbands to join them and they became the Savettes Choral Group. The group ministered around the Philadelphia area, singing in churches and concert halls, for local events and on local television stations. They also did outreach at nursing homes, prisons and in the streets. The group recorded several albums, and, over the years, gained new members. McLendon is one of only three original members who still perform with the group. He also has been a featured artist with two other Philadelphia-based groups—The Brockington Ensemble and the Victory Choral Union. When his children were old enough to travel, they performed as the McLendon Family for many years. They performed in venues around the Northeast, particularly in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
McLendon was called to the ministry in 1964 and was ordained in 1967. In 1978 he was ordained as an Elder and he and his wife left Philadelphia to pastor St. James Christian Fellowship in Tennille, GA, where they lived and worked for 17 years before returning to Philadelphia.
In 2009, he was honored as “A Philadelphia Living Legend” along with other Philadelphia musical notables such as; Chubby Checker, Bunny Siglar, Pastor Rosie Wallace Brown, Billy Paul, Dee Dee Sharp and many others.
McLendon and his wife, Ruth, have been married for 60 years. They have five children (one deceased), 15 grandchildren, and 14 great grandchildren. He continues to serve on the ministry staff of his home church, Mt. Olive Holy Temple and travel with the Savettes Choral Ensemble as a featured vocalist, while helping to care for his beloved wife Ruth, who suffers with health issues.
McLendon’s future plans include promoting his new CD, “if God gives me health and strength,” he says. “I live from day to day; I don’t know what’s ahead of me. I give glory to God for taking me through each day. But wherever I get an open door to minister in song or in the word, I receive it and I participate.”