African-American gospel group
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Psalms is a six-member, family-based, African-American gospel group from Cedar Rapids. They perform quartet-style (four-part harmony with a lead) as well as contemporary, spirituals, and hymns for family reunions, festivals, benefits and every week in church. Led by director and keyboard player Ron Teague, the group includes Michael Cole, Sandy Reed, Allen Bell, Sharilyn Bell, and Paul Tillman. The parents of several in the group sang in the renowned Zionettes. Doris Akers, Paul’s mother and the aunt of Sandy, Allen and Sharilyn, is particular known for her gospel hymn compositions.
Siblings Sandy Reed, Allen Bell, and Sharilyn Bell grew up singing in the Angel or children’s choir and then graduated to the junior choir in their Cedar Rapids church. Their cousin Paul Tillman grew up in Chicago. After World War II, the Bell family moved to Iowa from Kirksville, MO. Michael Cole, who was born in Detroit, has family roots in Louisiana. His parents moved from Virginia to Detroit, where his father worked for the Ford Motor Company. Mike’s grandmother lived in Cedar Rapids, where the family moved when he was six. All of the members of Psalms grew up singing for family gatherings as well as in church choirs.
Psalms is acknowledged by all its members as Sharilyn’s baby. She taught herself the piano and for years, she, Sandy and Mona (Paul’s sister) would get together and sing in the living room. After several family deaths, Allen finally joined the group, then Paul, and finally Mike. In 1988, the group members met Ron Teague, their trainer, and the rest is history.
Ron writes and arranges most of the music that the group sings and rehearses the group endlessly to get every last detail right. Rehearsals start with the melody, then parts are added, and finally the words, a process that can take about three weeks. Ron fits each part into each voice. What is most important about their music, however, is to sing with feeling and understanding, to put the spiritual element and the life experience into the music. As they all agreed, the group members depend on each other personally and musically.
Psalms was a featured group at the Smithsonian’s 1996 Festival of American Folklife, the Sesquicentennial Festival of Iowa Folklife, and the 2001 Festival of Iowa Folklife. Their renditions of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and “Ain’t No Devil” can be heard on the CD Iowa State Fare by clicking here.