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Bishop Willie James Campbell, ministered to South Side congregation half a century, dead at 75

He headed St. James Church of God in Christ, was a familiar voice on weekend gospel radio shows and presided at the funeral for 11-year-old Robert ‘Yummy’ Sandifer.

Bishop Willie James Campbell.
Bishop Willie James Campbell.
Leo Harris

His church members say Bishop Willie James Campbell could sing gospel, quote scripture and preach for hours without having to take a breath.

During half a century in the ministry, he headed St. James Church of God in Christ, 11750 S. Lowe Ave. And he was a familiar voice to listeners of weekend gospel radio programs, where he’d teach Sunday school lessons and broadcast his church services.

“They called him ‘the prince of preachers’ and ‘the preaching machine,’ ” according to his wife Lori. “People would call in, and he’d pray with them.”

Bishop Campbell, 75, died Nov. 7 at his Bolingbrook home, she said, giving the cause as a terminal illness.

“I think he could wake up in the middle of the night and preach,” WVON-AM radio host Pam Morris-Walton said. “He could keep going, and he could go on some more.”

He grew up in Chicago, the son of Bishop Jesse Campbell, another evangelist with the Church of God in Christ. He went to Farragut High School.

His mother Agnes was mindful of outside temptations, and family life centered around church.

“He could not go to the movies growing up because they had a strict household,” according to his daughter Bridgette Hurt.

He started preaching in 1968 at his father’s church at 4147 W. Roosevelt Rd. and was ordained in 1970, relatives said.

St. James became known for powerful gospel music. The church hosted performances by gospel stars including members of the Winans family, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Kim Burrell, Ricky Dillard, John P. Kee and Jonathan Nelson.

Bishop Campbell was featured on a recording of “Oh the Blood of Jesus” by the Rev. Clay Evans and his AARC Mass Choir.

Bishop Willie James Campbell.
Bishop Willie James Campbell.
Leo Harris

His son Jesse appeared in 2012 on Season 2 of “The Voice” and performed on a duet of “Where Is the Love?” on the soundtrack of the 1995 movie “Dead Presidents.” Bridgette Hurt is a soloist.

His son traveled with his father to perform at evening revivals.

“During the day, we would find something fun to do, whether it was fishing or an amusement park,” he said. “There was always a balance.”

“He preached from the East Coast to the West Coast; in London,” his wife said. “Bishop T.D. Jakes invited him to speak in Texas. He went to California to preach with Bishop Charles Edward Blake.”

In 1994, he conducted the funeral for Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, who was killed at just 11 years old in a web of youthful violence that drew national attention.

“Cry if you will,” Bishop Campbell told young people at the funeral, “but make up your mind that you will never let your life end like this.”

He was a former president of the department of evangelism for the Church of God in Christ and was on a board of the Chicago Music Festival, for which he recommended acts for Gospel Fest, Morris-Walton said. He also was a member of the National Gospel Announcers Guild of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.

Bishop Campbell is also survived by two other children, James and Jared, from his first marriage, to Anne Campbell; another daughter, Tjuan Gibbs; children Miisha and Kayla Campbell from his marriage to Lori Campbell; sisters Lillie Mae English, Eunice McIntyre and Clarola Scott; brothers Wardell and Kenneth Campbell; and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Bishop Campbell is to lie in state from noon to 8 p.m. Friday at St. James Church of God in Christ at 117th and Lowe.