Reverend Willie Lee Morganfield
Born: July 11, 1927, Stovall, Mississippi
Died: October 18, 2003
Photo credit: Bill Steber – www.steberphoto.com
Preaching and singing were closely connected for Reverend Willie Morganfield. The pastor of Bell Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksdale since 1975, Morganfield started out as a singer. He performed with a number of gospel groups, including the New Orleans Chosen Five and the Kings of Harmony. Eventually he became known as a soloist and released several hit recordings in the 1950s and ‘60s. However since accepting the call to the ministry in the 1960s Morganfield made preaching his priority. His experience as a musician comes through in the rhythms and verbal phrasing that he used in his sermons. Morganfield gained a national reputation for his preaching skills. One of 14 children, he was raised in a family steeped in both religion and music. He was the cousin of Muddy Waters, and his father Lewis Morganfield pastored in Memphis for 43 years. “Daddy wanted to stay on the gospel track. Other people tried to get him to sing rock and roll or rhythm and blues, but he was determined to stay with gospel because of his relationship with God. He felt like that was his purpose. He wanted to live ‘for God and not the money.’” says daughter Delories. After World War II, Morganfield sang with the New Orleans Chosen Five and the Soproco Singers. He was an original member of the Kings of Harmony. In 1951, Morganfield moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to work for a construction company. There he led a group that embraced two of his brothers: the Delta Friendly Four. He came to Memphis in 1959, and wrote What Is This. It was a mega-hit, as were the follow-ups: Serving The Lord and Lord, Thank You, Sir. He also sang with Early Wright’s Four Star Quartet and the Clarksdale-based Glorybound Singers. Despite the popularity of his gospel recordings, it was the power of his sermons that earned Morganfield an international reputation.