Delores Washington-Green, whose silvery soprano sweetened the music of the legendary gospel group The Caravans, has died at 82.
She was rooted in the music of the Black church and also trained at a music conservatory.
“She could [sing] very light and very lovely,” said gospel music historian Robert Marovich, “and get down in her emotions and pull out her feelings when the spirit led her.”
Mrs. Washington-Green, who faced various forms of cancer five times since the 1970s, died Sept. 2 of complications from the disease at the Markham home of her niece Verlda Brown, according to her son Leonidas “Lee” Green.
Young Delores looked up to Albertina Walker, a fellow Caravan who was considered one of the queens of gospel. She said “Tina” was like a big sister, guiding her in the music business and teaching her about life on the road, including how to navigate whites-only hotels and restaurants in the Jim Crow-era South.
“There was name-calling. We’d have to go in through the back door [at restaurants] if we wanted something to eat,” Mrs. Washington-Green once said. “It came as a total shock to me. I was born in Illinois. I was not familiar with all this hostility toward Black people.”
Still, she said, “We held our heads up high and kept pushing. We were on a mission: to sing for God.”
She joined The Caravans in 1958. Around that time, the lineup also included Walker, Inez Andrews, Shirley Caesar and Cassietta George. Eddie Williams, who played piano with The Caravans, told Walker about his Robbins neighbor when the group was seeking a soprano.
“Albertina recruited her on Eddie Williams’ recommendation,” said Marovich, who first reported Mrs. Washington-Green’s death on the Journal of Gospel Music.
“She was a trained singer, and you could hear it in her voice,” said Marovich, author of the 2015 book “A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music.” “Nobody else in The Caravans had that ability to call forward almost operatic training.”
The Rev. James Herndon, who sang and played piano with The Caravans, said, “Her mother told me she had been taught by Leonard Bernstein’s sister.”
Her pure soprano was “always that sound that made The Caravans’ background so great,” Herndon said. It also was featured on “Oh Lord, Have Mercy,” recorded with the James Herndon Singers.
Even as she developed a thriving solo career, Mrs. Washington-Green also remained a stalwart of The Caravans. As she once put it, “They can come, and they can go, and they can come, and they can go, but I ain’t going nowhere.”
The combination of The Caravans’ voices was spine-tingling. A 1994 Sun-Times story called them “the Mount Rushmore of gospel.”
The group routinely thrilled audiences filled with superstars of secular music.
Mrs. Washington-Green’s powerful singing continued even after treatment for cancer, said the Rev. Jerome Allen Bell, a minister and recording artist. During one appearance, “She just wrecked my church for 15 minutes,” he said.
Walker, who also was present, leaned over to him and said: “Now, that’s with one lung.”
Mrs. Washington-Green also sang with the Shirley Wahls Singers. The troupe toured Europe, where Wahls said audiences connected with “her voice and her delivery and her sincerity.”
She grew up in Robbins, the daughter of Evelyn and Robert Washington, a store owner, and went to Eisenhower High School.
“She had a voice like you would not believe,” said Tyrone Hayward, director of the Robbins Historical Society & Museum, which includes an exhibition on Mrs. Washington-Green. She performed at the museum opening in 2010.
He first heard her sing when he was a teenager in school, and, Hayward said, “She blew the roof off that old auditorium.”
In 2019, Mrs. Washington-Green broke into a chorus of “Jesus Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” as she received the Dr. Bobby Jones Legends honor at the Stellar Gospel Music Awards in Las Vegas.
Until January, she was still booking appearances.
“She was still doing the Lord’s work,” her son said. “It wasn’t anything about the money. It was about what the Lord motivated her to do.”
Mrs. Washington-Green loved having people over, cooking them dinner and then enjoying a spirited game of bid whist.
In addition to her son Lee, survivors include her son Thomas Green, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Visitation for Mrs. Washington-Green will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at W.W. Holt Funeral Home, 175 W. 159th St., Harvey. Her wake will be at noon Sept. 18 followed by the funeral service at 2 p.m. at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, 14618 Lincoln Ave., Harvey.