Give Name: Claude Ely
Date of Birth: July 21, 1922
Place of Birth: Lee County, Virginia
Date of Death: May 7, 1978
Marital Status: Rosey
Children: Sonnie, Roger, Claudette, Claude, Jr.
"Brother Claude Ely recorded some of the most
powerful and emotional Gospel songs ever made. Known sometimes as the
Gospel Ranger, Ely spent nearly thirty years as a minister in the Appalachian
heartland of eastern Kentucky, east Tennessee, southwestern Virginia,
and eventually to a migrant community in suburban Cincinnati.
His early efforts on the King label-recorded during Kentucky mountain
religious services-preserve some excellent and spontaneous music from
the white Holiness and Pentecostal traditions. Claude Ely was born in
a mountain homestead some five miles from Pennington Gap, Virginia in
a hollow called Pucketts Creek, VA.
At 12, physicians diagnosed him as suffering from tuberculosis, which
they believed terminal, but he subsequently recovered. However, during
his illness, he began to play musical instruments, although he had no
prior experience. Ely subsequently worked as a coal miner and served in
the U.S. Army during WWII. Afterwards, he returned home, had a conversion
experience and worked in the mines until 1949, when he received a call
For the next sixteen years Brother Claude conducted numerous revivals
and pastored churches in such mountain towns as Grundy, Virginia and Cumberland,
Kentucky. During his pastorate at the Free Pentecostal Church of God in
Cumberland, he recorded two sessions for King Records, the first apparently
taken from a remote broadcast in the church to a radio station in Whitesburg,
Kentucky, on October 12, 1953 and the second from a recording made at
a revival meeting in the local Letcher County Courthouse the following
According to J.D. Jarvis, who was present, Ely initially had some reservations
about commercially recording in a studio, but finally decided to permit
cutting the material in an actual service and put them on disc. A total
of fifteen numbers were recorded at both services although only eight
appeared on single releases, but their uniqueness has long impressed folklorists
and students of Appalachian religious traditions.
Brother Claude’s rendition of songs like Holy,
Holy, Holy (That’s All Right), There’s A Leak In This Old
Building and especially There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body
Down are outstanding and the latter number went on to become something
of a standard in the Gospel field.
Claude Ely continued not only to conduct revivals and Gospel sings, but
also to minister churches. In 1962 and in 1968, he again recorded for
King, but this time in a more conventional studio setting. Meanwhile his
pastorate took him to Charity Tabernacle in Newport, Kentucky-within the
Cincinnati metropolitan area-where he spent the last thirteen years of
Not long after his last session at King, Brother Claude recorded an album
at Rusty York’s Jewel studio, backed by local Gospel musicians such
as Dennis Hensley, Phil Miles, Herschel Lively, J.D. Jarvis and Herman
Crisp. He released it on his own Gold Star label. Ely suffered a heart
attack in September 1977, but seemingly recovered. At that time, he began
to tape many of his own unrecorded compositions for preservation. This
proved to be a wise move because he suffered a fatal heart attack the
following May and died during a service at his church.
His daughter assembled an album and a sermon from these home recordings
and they were released on Dennis Hensley’s Jordan label in 1979.
Several latter-day Appalachian Gospel singers trace varying influences
to Brother Claude and his music, including Robert Akers, Tommy Crank,
Joe Freeman and J.D. Jarvis.
Interest in his music persists and in 1993, the British label Ace released
a compact disc containing his entire 1953 and 1954 sessions, including
the talking, sermonettes and unreleased cuts, as well as a few of his
numbers from 1962."
Written By Ivan M. Tribe (author and music