Instruments: Vocals, Producer
Date of Birth: January 23, 1927
Place of Birth: Bessemer, Alabama
Date of Death: February 15, 1978

Professor Alex Bradford was one of gospel's most well-loved and versatile figures. A tireless singer, songwriter, and choir director, he was also a promoter and record producer for other singers. During the 1960s, Bradford traveled the world in Black Nativity, but his earlier Specialty recordings -- among them 1953's "Too Close To Heaven" -- are considered his greatest legacy.

At the age of 13 Alex Bradford joined the Protective Harmoneers, a children's gospel group in Bessemer, and had his own radio show on a local station. He attended Snow Hill Institute in Snow Hill, Alabama, and as a student teacher acquired the title "professor," which he maintained throughout his career. While traveling with Mahalia Jackson in 1941-2, he copied down the names of promoters from her address book and left her employ to organize his own group, the Bradford Singers. When they made no great impression on the gospel field, Bradford joined Willie Webb and his singers, with whom he recorded "Every Day and Every Hour" (1950). On the strength of its success he organized the Bradford Specials, an all-male group who sang in robes with pastel stoles and choreographed most of their songs. In 1953 Bradford wrote and recorded "Too Close to Heaven," which sold a million copies and received an award from the National Baptist Music Convention. A series of gospel recordings followed, and Bradford amassed a large following, not only for the beauty of his singing, marked by a throaty baritone and shrill falsetto, but his flamboyance as a stage personality and performer. In 1961 he turned to the theater and achieved a huge success in Langston Hughes's Black Nativity (1961), which then toured Europe and was broadcast nationwide on television in the US. In 1972 he appeared on Broadway in Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope, for which he won the Obie Award, and again in 1976 in Your Arm's Too Short to Box with God. He composed more than 300 gospel songs, including (besides Too Close To Heaven) "He'll Wash You Whiter Than Snow" (1955) and "After It's Over" (1963).

Horace Clarence Boyer
The New Grove Dictionary of American Music

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Professor Alex Bradford (1927 – 1978) was a multi-talented gospel composer, singer, arranger and choir director who was a great influence on artists such as Little Richard, Bob Marley and Ray Charles and who helped bring about the modern mass choir movement in gospel.

Born in Bessemer, Alabama, he first appeared on stage at age four, then joined a children's gospel group at thirteen, soon obtaining his own radio show. He organized another group after his mother sent him to New York City following a racial incident; he continued singing after returning to attend the Snow Hill Institute in Snow Hill, Alabama, where he acquired the title "Professor" while teaching as a student.

He moved to Chicago in 1947, where he worked briefly with Roberta Martin and toured with Mahalia Jackson, then struck out on his own with his own group, the Bradford Singers, followed by another group, the Bradford Specials. He recorded his first hit record, "Too Close To Heaven", billed as Professor Alex Bradord and his singers, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc,[1] then followed it with a number of other successes in the rest of the decade.

Artists such as Little Richard imitated Bradford's energetic style, ranging from a gravelly bass to a whooping falsetto, and his flamboyant stage presence. Ray Charles, for his part, not only borrowed some of Bradford's vocal mannerisms but based his Raelets on the Bradford Specials. His 1962 gospel song composition "Let the Lord Be Seen in Me", recorded for his "One Step & Angel on Vacation" album, was also recorded in 1964 by an emerging force in Jamaican music, Bob Marley & the Spiritual Sisters. Marley later adopted the Rastafarian faith, but along with his mother, at first he sung gospel in the local Shilo Apostolic Church.

In 1961, when his recording career was in decline, Bradford joined the cast in "Black Nativity", based on the writings of Langston Hughes. He appeared in Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope, for which he won the Obie award, in 1972. He died in 1978 as the musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God was in production.



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