Rev. James Moore
Although the Rev. James Moore is afflicted with diabetic blindness and life-threatening kidney disease, neither has stopped the widely acclaimed gospel star and ordained minister from proclaiming himself the victor rather than the victim.
"It ain't over 'til God says it's over," exclaims the chart-topping Malaco Records artist. James goes even further, confidently predicting that one day soon the Lord will bless him with a complete healing.
That kind of unswerving faith in the Lord has always marked the life of this Detroit native, who, since beginning his recording career in 1993, has racked up an impressive variety of awards -- including four Stellars, the highest award in gospel music.
Even when the soul-filled vocalist lost three of his younger siblings in a tragic house fire, and later, after his dearest friend and mentor died of cancer, James caught his spiritual balance by turning to heaven, viewing such misfortune as the Lord's way of testing his faith.
The gospel star's moving account of his battle against his debilitating eye and kidney disease is also a testimonial to real living faith.
"I just felt like God was allowing these things to happen to me to see how much I really loved Him," he declares with the patience of Job. "These were all tests -- trials -- and I wasn't about to throw my hands up and lose my faith. I love Him too much for that. I'm a victor, not a victim, in life and I'll trust in the Lord until I die."
Life first began pulling the rug from under James Moore's feet when he was just an infant. His mother, an unwed seventeen-year-old, was unable to raise her first of ten children, so at her aunt's urging, she turned James over to a foster family for his upbringing.
Even today, James refuses to bear a grudge against his mother. "Mama was just seventeen and she was in a very precarious situation," he says in her defense. "I know she didn't want to give me to one of the members of the church, but she was in a very tough situation."
James continues defending his mother by emphasizing that she was a morally upright person. "My mom had always been a church young lady -- she was raised in the church.
"That's where my foster mother met her. She said to my mother, 'Shirley, I'll take James if you want me to take him.' So that's how that came about."
It was from his foster parents that James grew up learning to love and fear the Lord.
"They were religious people who had their own family, and they were steady churchgoers," he recalls. "So I was raised in the church. All I knew was the church. And there was lots of spiritual talk about God at home. My foster mother would always talk about the Lord, what God can do.
"She was the kind of woman that would get happy in a minute by talking about God. And my real mom would visit and I would get spiritual talk from my mom, too. So I had a good training ground for the church and for God, Himself, even though I didn't know God back then the way I know Him now."
Sharing memories of his childhood, the gifted singer remembers growing up on the east side of Detroit, the "hotbed" of gospel music. He doesn't recall the neighborhood as a particularly tough one.
"There were, you know, black and white families," he relates. "But after a while the whites started to move out because more blacks were moving in. Still, it stayed a good neighborhood because it was a family neighborhood. A majority of the homes were two-family flats."
James portrays himself as a well-behaved youngster, a quiet kind of kid who always took a keen interest in religion. "I wasn't a wild kid," he says with a smile. "I was a kid who was very curious about certain things. I was always very fond of the preaching of the gospel in church and also the singing and the music."
The youngster gave an early display of his own talent when, at age seven, he sang for the first time before his church congregation. That memory elicits a chuckle from James.
"I can still remember that they stood me up on a little box, and my first song was 'How Great Art Thee.' And all the people who heard it were elated. The folks really enjoyed it. I had the people dancin' and clappin'. But I don't think I gave any thought to going professional until I was about eighteen years old."
The years passed by rather uneventfully until high school, James recalls, a time when the teenager's relationship with his foster parents began to deteriorate.
"As I got older, living with my foster parents, we started having a few problems," he relates. "And those problems stemmed from the fact that they had their own daughter and grandchildren.
"And I looked at that and, being a teenager, I just felt like I needed to get a chance to know more about my side of the family. I just wanted to be with my mother and my sisters and my brothers. So I was kind of rebellious."
There was something else that contributed to the ill feelings between him and his foster family. Whenever the teenager would bring up the subject of his real mother, his foster parent would launch into a negative tirade about her, something James remembers he didn't want to hear.
"My foster mother was real sweet, but sometimes she would say negative things about my mom. And it got to a point that I got tired of it. And when I said something about that, I got a beating by her husband. He worked at the Ford Motor Company."
There was one particular night that James painfully recalls being "beat buck-naked with switches." He also remembers fleeing his house in terror. "I was running through the streets there on the East Side with no shoes on, just my underwear. And the police saw me, and they took me to the youth detention home."
Although the police did their best to urge the teenager to return home, James refused to do so. "I didn't want to go back because the relationship was no longer a relationship. All I was hearing back there was, 'You'll never be nothing.' 'Your Mama wasn't nothing.' My foster mother would always throw that up in my face."
For the next several months, James called a youth detention center his home. Although it wasn't the best of living situations, he recollects that it was still better than the abuse he'd been receiving at home.
James also recalls finding solace and inspiration in the gospel music he would listen to when he felt down or lonely. "All my life I've loved that kind of music," he submits. "I'd been listening to it and singing gospel music since I was seven years old, when I gave my first solo in church."
One day, while walking around the city, James discovered Detroit's Conservatory of Music, locally known as Elma and Carl's House of Music. He remembers walking in to inquire about music lessons, and meeting a most remarkable woman.
Elma Hendricks, a talented musician who ran the struggling school with her husband, quickly developed a liking for the obviously talented youngster. "She became like my mom and even agreed to let me live with her and her family for a while," James fondly recalls.
"She took me under her wing and she tutored me in music. She was my vocal teacher, and she was my music teacher, and she taught me how to play the organ and piano. She even gave me free lessons."
That living arrangement, however, soon fell apart. "It was really tough because she was living with her father, and she hadn't really talked to her dad about bringing a young man in to live in the house. So I was only able to stay with her for a while."
Elma helped the sixteen-year-old obtain a room in a downtown YMCA, where James supported himself by working weekends at a record store that she and her husband operated as part of their business.
Still, James recalls feeling lonely and depressed. "It was a rough time of my life," he recollects. "And the relationship between me and my foster parents was getting uglier -- it was all around just one big ugly situation."
To worsen matters, the teenager suffered an unexpected tragedy that increased his depression: a house fire in which three of his youngest siblings perished.
"You know, it's really strange, but I knew that was gonna happen," he states. "I dreamed one night that there were three white caskets by my bed. And Lord have mercy, that Saturday when I went to work I knew something had happened.
"My brother and uncle came down to the store, and soon as I saw them I immediately knew that something bad had happened. And they said there was a fire at the house, and the three youngest kids got burned up in the fire. The boiler in the basement had caught on fire and it blew up.
"And everybody, my mom and my brothers and my sisters, they were upstairs sleeping until my sisters smelled smoke. So they got hysterical and jumped out the windows. But three of them died from smoke inhalation -- two girls and one boy."
James's powerful voice is tinged with sadness as he continues.
"My baby sister, Robin, she was six years old. David happened to be two, and little Marlin was one. And a child that my mother was baby-sitting also died in that fire. So it was a very tragic situation that my mother and I went through."
The following day, while sitting in church during the funeral service, James says that he came to a momentous decision, one that would affect the future of his life.
Instead of feeling angry at God for the loss he suffered, or denouncing his Maker for all the difficulties he had been experiencing over the years, the sixteen-year-old, instead, decided to embrace Jesus.
"I just remember I was sitting there at the church with my mom. It was a very tough situation for me. It was then that I decided to accept my calling into the ministry, to devote my life entirely to Jesus.
"All my life, even though I had always loved church, I had tried to do everything not to accept my calling to the ministry. I had run from it. But now I was no longer going to run from the Lord.
"It might look like God had forsaken me, but I thought it was God's way of getting my attention. You see, a lot of people don't understand that God permits certain things to happen just to get our attention. No, I wasn't going to hate God for what had just happened. I knew that this was His doing to get me going upward and upward."
James recalls how Elma patiently listened to him as he spoke about his desire to serve the Lord.r
"James," she said, "there's somebody I want you to meet."
"Who?" he asked, wondering what his friend had in mind.
"Her name's Mattie Clark and she's the pastor of the Bailey Temple Church of God and Christ in downtown Detroit."
From the moment that he stepped foot into that church and met the charismatic pastor and gospel singer, James remembers falling under the woman's spell.
"When I walked out of the church that day I had gotten saved," he says in an emotion-filled voice. "I became a changed person. I gave my life to God. And I began to hang out with other young people who were saved and filled with the Holy Ghost, and that really helped me."
It was under the pastor's guidance that James not only began to flourish spiritually, but musically as well. The gospel music matriarch was well connected in music circles, and her sponsorship helped the talented teenager up the first few rungs of the ladder of success.
In 1974, James met someone else who was to have a profound influence in his life -- the late gospel music star Rev. James Cleveland. James went on to attend Cleveland's Gospel Music Workshop of America in Chicago, where the twenty-year-old received the Thurston Frazier Scholarship Award and was discovered by a talent scout from Savoy Records.
That same year he recorded his first album, I Thank You Master, on the Savoy label. The record garnered moderate success. After three more recordings, James switched to the Malaco label, where his debut album, Rev. Moore Live, swiftly climbed to the top ten of both the Billboard and Cashbox gospel music charts.
In 1989, that album earned the young singer his first Stellar Award for Best Solo Performance and also an Excellence Award nomination from GMWA, the Gospel
Music Workshop of America. Next, James performed as a guest artist on the Mississippi Mass Choir's debut album, Live in Jackson, Mississippi, contributing to its massive success.
The disc stayed a record forty-eight weeks at Number One on Billboard's Gospel Albums Chart, won four Stellar Awards, three GMWA Excellence Awards, and took three Dove nominations.
Grateful for his participation on their hugely successful debut album, members of the Mississippi Mass Choir agreed to perform as backup for James's next album. In March 1991, Live With the Mississippi Mass Choir became the nation's Number One gospel hit.
Now firmly entrenched as one of the top stars in the gospel music industry, James thought the hardships that for so many years had plagued him were things of the past. But, as he was soon to learn, his spiritual endurance would be tested even further.
"It was 1993 and I lost a close friend of mine, Frank Williams, who happened to be my mentor," James recalls. "He was a gospel singer and a producer. And he was the executive director for Malaco Records for its gospel division.
"He birthed my recording career," James unequivocally states. "He was a man who was a very low-profile brother. And he believed in me. He believed in me so much, and he wanted to see my career bloom, and it did bloom.
"It was because of him that I was blessed and fortunate enough to be one of the artists who sang on the Mississippi Mass Choir's first recording. But that year Frank passed on to be with the Lord."
Even today, James sounds mournful when he talks about the death of his best friend. Back then, however, James recollects that he nearly left the music business because of the sadness he felt.
"That really threw me for a loop because we were really close. He was like my brother, my big brother. He was somebody I could talk to about anything."
James relates one incident typical of how Frank would treat him: "I was having so many personal problems at the time that an executive at Malaco Records suggested that I needed to see a psychologist.
"And Frank was sitting there, and I felt so hurt because this executive was telling me I needed to see a psychologist. I was having financial problems and one problem after another. I wasn't a good manager with my finances. It was rough for me, because I never had anybody in my family to really help me."
James remembers how he left that meeting feeling embarrassed and humiliated. "Frank caught up with me after the meeting and he said, 'Listen, don't let him bother you.' I can't tell you how good that made me feel. That's the kind of guy he was.
"And when I made my mistakes, he would tell me where I was wrong. He would never put me down, but he would say, 'That was wrong. You need to straighten it out.' That's why when Frank died it was like something inside me died too. I just didn't feel like going on."
James recalls that he first learned of his friend's death while preparing to perform at the Baptist Center in Nashville, Tennessee. "I remember I was getting ready for the show and my manager, Debbie May, came into my hotel room with a young musician by the name of Jimmy White.
"She said, 'Sit down. How're you doin'?'
"I said, 'What's up, boss? What's wrong with you all? I've got to get ready for this concert.' They already knew that Frank had passed, and they just wanted to make sure I was all right. That's when they told me."
That was one moment in his life that the acclaimed gospel music star says he hopes never to have to experience again. "I've had some rough deals in my life, and I've gone through some bad experiences," he declares. "But his death really shook me. I couldn't believe it. I called Frank. I called his home. His pastor answered and he asked me how I was doing. I said, 'I'm fine, where's Frank?'"
The pastor switched the call to Frank's wife, which is when James remembers that the reality of the situation finally set in. "I said, Katrina, how are you doing, baby? How do you feel?
"And she said, 'As good as can be expected.' She said, 'Haven't you heard? Frank died today.' I immediately blacked out. My manager told me later that I was hollering 'It can't be true, it can't be true.'"
What happened over the course of the next week still remains pretty much of a blur for James. All he can recall is boarding a plane to Las Vegas in order to clear his head and try to escape the pain he was feeling.
But that pain refused to go away, clinging to him like a ghost. "I was refusing to go to Frank's funeral," he recollects. "I kept saying, 'I ain't going because he's not dead.' Well, they finally convinced me to get on the plane, and so I went to Jackson for the funeral. They allowed me to view the body by myself. And then I knew it was really true, that he was gone."
Although immersed in grief, James offers that he cannot recall one moment when he blamed God for the death of his friend. "No, I never lost my faith," he says with emphasis.
"I was just astonished. I was just overwhelmed. I mean, here was a man I had just talked to about three or four days ago, and he was telling me how excited he was about this new album we were going to do.
"No, I didn't lose my faith. I became stronger in my faith. The Bible says that all things work together for the good of them that love the Lord. I knew that God does things for reasons, and it's not for us to say, 'Well, why did you do that?' That's how I coped with it.
"I just believed that God knew what He was doing when he took Frank. And I didn't question God. I always tell people, 'Don't question the Lord and why He does things. It may be a blow, but He knows what He's doing. And sometimes, certain things like this can happen. God permits it to happen so that He can bring out the best in us.'"
James also recalls relying on prayer to get him through that ordeal. "I just kept saying, 'Lord, send your deliverance to me.' And He did. The only thing that was put in my spirit was to remember those times that I had with Frank that were good times."
A year later, James was to suffer another tragedy -- an illness that to this very day threatens his life. Again, the artist whom many describe as the "King of Gospel Music" responded in a spirit-filled way.
His testimony begins in 1994 when James was ministering at a small church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Still grieving for his friend, James had taken a temporary break from recording.
"It all started with me catching the flu. And I was in bed with the chills. And anytime you catch me in the bed from Sunday to Sunday and not in church, you know I've got to be sick. A month had passed, and I was getting weaker and weaker instead of better, so I asked the pastor's son to take me to the emergency room."
When the thirty-eight-year-old entertainer arrived at the local hospital, he was admitted complaining of chills and a serious nosebleed. After examining his patient, the doctor diagnosed James with the flu.
James remembers that the physician was about to dismiss him, when the doctor noticed an unusual swelling in his patient's ankles. "He was prescribing medicine for the flu when he looked down at my ankles," James recalls. "I
was putting my clothes back on when he asked if he could run a few tests."
A half hour later the doctor returned with the test results in his hands.
"Reverend Moore, follow these nurses to your room. We've admitted you to the hospital," the doctor said.
"What?" James replied.
"I don't want you to wait a day more. Go."
"So they admitted me to the hospital. I had my vision at the time. I wasn't blind."
More tests followed, and then James was given the bad news. He learned that his kidneys had completely stopped functioning because of a high percentage of toxins in his bloodstream.
"The doctor said, 'Reverend, you have total renal failure, and also retinal deterioration.' He said that I had a lot of excess fluid in my legs -- my feet looked like elephant feet -- and that they were going to try and get the fluid out."
James, still reeling from shock, could not believe what he was hearing. He demanded to be released from the hospital. "I got so upset that I told the pastor's son to get me out of here. I had an IV in my arm."
"Listen, Reverend, we can't let you go," the nurse said.
"I said, 'Take this IV out, I'm going home. I don't understand why I'm going through this.'
"So I signed a paper and I went out on my own. I went into a state of denial. I didn't want to believe these things were happening to me, a thirty-eight-year-old man."
A month passed, and James remembers feeling worse than ever. There was one afternoon, while preparing to go onstage at the Church of God and Christ Annual Holy Convention in Memphis, Tennessee, that he could hardly find the strength to stand.
"I was sick and dying and I didn't even realize it," he submits. "Then I got a call from the president of Malaco Records, Mr. Tommy Count, Sr., who asked me to come to Jackson. Well, I was under the impression I was going there to finish editing my video. Little did I know that it was a plot to get me admitted to the hospital."
That day, as James stepped off the plane in Mississippi, he was greeted by several Malaco Records executives. "They told me that I'd been good to the company, and that they wanted to show how much they cared instead of letting me go this alone.
"They wanted their doctors to take a look at me. So I said, 'Okay, I don't have a problem with that.' What I didn't know was that they were going to send me to the hospital that very same day."
"When am I going?" James remembers asking his bosses.
"Right now," replied Stuart Madison, one of the record company's executives.
"Wait a minute, I can't go now," James protested. "It's a holiday."
Within the hour James found himself seated in the hospital emergency room. "I ended up going with Joyce Hans, who was the receptionist at Malaco. Mr. Madison had given her his American Express credit card to get me admitted."
After an examination, the doctors confirmed that the gospel star's kidneys had stopped functioning and that life-threatening toxins had entered his bloodstream. As a result, James was required to undergo dialysis three times a week to help cleanse him of these toxins, a procedure he must participate in to this very day.
"So they put me on dialysis and I didn't even know what dialysis was," he recollects. "I just couldn't believe what was happening to me. It was a frightening situation."
Things were to get even worse. James remembers returning to his room, where he was watching television. Suddenly, it felt as if all the lights had suddenly gone out.
"It was like my eyesight just went kaboom. It just left me. The eye specialist examined me and he told me I was legally blind." It was all too much for him, James recalls. "It tore me down. I cried and I cried. I just couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe on top of everything else I was also going blind."
Severely depressed, James remembers how his spirits were lifted by the words of his new manager, Jerry Mannerly, words that gave him the courage to go on.
"He said, 'Listen, God can do anything. I know it hurts, but this ain't over.' And so I dealt with it. And every day the blindness got worse and worse, but I dealt with it."
If the accomplished singer's career was a phenomenon before, it now became what many describe as a miracle, as the gospel star fought back against the frailties of his body through an emphasis on his faith in God. Instead of anger, James felt strengthened by his ordeal.
"No, I didn't feel any anger toward God at all. In fact, it made me love Him even more. I felt like God was allowing these things to happen to see how much I really loved Him. And I know that He loves me. He confirmed His word to me. I once heard Him say to me, 'You're going to be a living testimony to Me.'
"And that's what I am. And I thank Him for that and I love Him more and more because He's a healer. He already brought me from death's door up until now -- from death to life! These doctors had pretty much given up on me. This one doctor told me that my life was over. But God proved him wrong."
James remains convinced this all his bodily ills are only temporary, and that God will eventually heal him completely.
"Listen, I believe in God so much that I believe He will touch these eyes, which He is doing now, and touch my kidneys, which He is doing now. I know that He's a way maker. I know that He's a comfort keeper. I know sure as my name that God has delivered and touched my body, that He's refurbishing this body right now. I've got that kind of faith."
That conviction, he says, comes from having seen many examples of God's miracles at work over the years. "I have no choice but to believe in the Lord because of what I've witnessed Him do over the years.
"That's why I'll keep on shouting, singing, and preaching the praises of the Lord. In me, God has a warrior. I'm not going to be defeated by Satan and his henchmen. I've come out swinging."
Although he must still undergo dialysis treatments three times each week, James's poor physical condition has not slowed him down. Today, he is busy at work in the studio recording his latest album, while also preparing for his upcoming tenth-year anniversary celebration with Malaco Records.
In addition, the ordained minister and singer is touring the country as the star of Why Good Girls Like Bad Boyz, a gospel musical that last year opened in New York City's Beacon Theater.
"I'm having a wonderful time with this," he declares. "This is the first time that I've done any acting. I'm testing new ground."
As if that wouldn't tire out most healthy artists, James continues to perform before church audiences and concert crowds. He is also scheduled to be the guest artist at an upcoming national black pride convention sponsored by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
There is also something else new in his life. The gospel star has recently become engaged, and soon plans to be married. "People tell me to slow down, that I'm trying to do too much," he says, smiling. "But my condition doesn't bother me when I'm doing something I love. And spreading the word of Jesus is something that I love doing."
If James is a living testimonial of how faith can overcome adversity, it is not a quality that he believes is exclusively his own. The inspired musical messenger humbly offers that anyone can surmount life's challenges by placing their full faith in the Lord.
"I say to people who are in a situation where they're going through surgery, or where their doctors have told them that they're not going to make it, to remember something.
"Don't give up because the doctor says it doesn't look good and that maybe you've only got six months to live -- like they did to me. That's why I wrote the song 'It Ain't Over 'Til God Says It's Over.'
"Some of the doctors I've had were very arrogant. They thought they knew more than God. And they kept saying to me, 'Oh, no, oh, no!' But God has a way of doing things.
"So don't give up and throw your hands up. Because it could really be a test of God to see if you're going to really love Him and trust Him more than you trust the doctors."
As if to add emphasis to his words, the vocal powerhouse relates one final story about the miracle of faith. "There was this last situation a couple of months ago where I took sick. I was beginning to produce Brian Wilson's album, and I found out that a doctor had put a catheter that was not sterile in my chest."
As a result, James developed an infection that required hospitalization. "I was in the Jackson, Mississippi, Methodist Hospital for nearly a month," he states. "The infection had gotten into my bloodstream, and I couldn't even walk -- I needed a wheelchair.
"The hospital called my mom and said, 'You'd better come to Jackson because we don't think he's gonna make it. But, of course, God again proved them wrong. God healed me. They thought I would never walk again. Now I walk on my cane and I'm doing well. This has made me trust Him even more.
"It ain't over 'til God says it's over," James joyfully proclaims. "And that's the way you gotta feel no matter what you're goin' through. Trust Him and believe in Him. Seek out God's face for what He can do for you...."
Copyright © 1998 by Dr. Bobby Jones and Lesley Sussman