Mildred Howard, a member of the Original Gospel Harmonettes of Birmingham, died Sunday [July 12] in Cincinnati.
She was believed to be about 89 years old, although a family member declined to reveal her age.
Mrs. Howard was a 1938 graduate of Parker High School who came up with the idea for the Gospel Harmonettes, a musical group formed in the early 1940s that disbanded in 1977.
One of the first all-women gospel singing groups to sign a national recording contract, the Harmonettes were fronted by Dorothy Love Coates and toured the country for more than three decades, played at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater and Madison Square Garden, recorded on RCA and Specialty Records, and left a legacy of classic songs that are still sung in churches around the world.
"She had a voice like a mockingbird, beautiful, strong, full of soul," said pianist Evelyn Hardy, the last surviving member of the original Harmonettes. "I sure am going to miss her."
LaTressa Cobb, a niece of Mrs. Howard, said Mrs. Howard had moved from Birmingham to Cincinnati about five years ago. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Arrington Funeral Home, and a service probably will be held next week at Mrs. Howard's home church, Trinity Baptist Church in Birmingham, Cobb said.
Mrs. Howard, second soprano in the Harmonettes, was a native of Dallas County and moved to Birmingham as a child. She was director of the mass choir at Trinity Baptist for many years.
"Singing had always been what I wanted to do," Mrs. Howard said in a 2007 interview with The Birmingham News. Mrs. Howard, whose maiden name was Mildred Madison, said she and Odessa Edwards approached their friend Hardy about joining. "From then on we were Harmonettes," Mrs. Howard said.
Within the group, Howard was known for her sharpness in dress, style, and manners, and helped build up the professional reputation of the Gospel Harmonettes into that of one of the most respected groups on the Gospel Highway.
The Gospel Harmonettes made a living for years touring and playing at package show concerts, such as the famous 1955 Shrine Auditorium Concert, and often charged only $1 admission so that more fans could attend, especially in poor areas. "You couldn't get blood out of a turnip," Mrs. Howard said in 2007. "We ALWAYS had huge crowds."
Songs Howard were famous for, were "Peace Be Still", "Glory Hallelujah", "Peace In The Valley", "In my Home Over There", and "He's Calling Me" where she shared a fiery lead with Dorothy Love Coates.