by Hiram Crowder and
Willie Mae Wright
Willie Mae Wright, founder of Melodic Ministries, started her work as far
back as the mid-1960s.
She testified before Congress in 1967 on the plight of poor people. She
also was part of the host team that guided Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Vice President
Hubert Humphrey and Senator Robert Kennedy through Hough at the time of the riots. She
also was vice-president and co-founder of Housing Our People Economically (HOPE), one of
the first nonprofit housing corporations in the United States in 1969. She spoke at a
Congressional Black Caucus meeting on the issues of poverty in Washington, DC in 1990, and
has connected many suburban and inner-city churches for religious programs and joint
Working with and for the poor was only one part of the work Mrs. Wright
had done. In 1975, she sang for Pope John VI at the Vatican. She also sang at the
International Africa Prize Award ceremony at the Hunger Project in New York at the United
Nations building. She has opened for famous names in gospel music such as the late Mahalia
Jackson, the late Rev. James Cleveland, Shirley Caesar and Whitney Phipps. She has also
recorded two albums with the Wright Family Singers a group made of Willie Wright
and seven of her eight children. She also sings at churches, civic events, colleges and
gatherings of many kinds on a regular basis.
In all that she has done and continues to do, Mrs. Wright had taken
time to talk to a writer from Connection Magazine about her lifes work. Her husband
recently passed, but she still keeps going, and maintains that she is a woman of faith.
This is her story:
In my role as an escort through the Hough neighborhoods in the late
1960s, there was more involvement at that time with Hubert Humphrey than with Senator
Robert Kennedy. At that time, Senator Kennedy was running for office on the Independent
ticket, and he was seeking the support of the Democratic Party, but they did not support
him. Mayor Carl B. Stokes, who was of the Democratic Party, was not at liberty to go to
him at that time. There was a rally on Public Square, where Mayor Stokes was speaking on
one side and Senator Kennedy was speaking on the other, and I was told, along with others
who worked with me, that we could not meet with Senator Kennedy because of our support for
My husband, the Rev. W.J. Wright, was instrumental in gaining political
support as the Cleveland-based, field representative for HOPE. The ministers in the
community became concerned, and we just started leading, strategizing and praying, and we
asked God to show us a better way for his people. There were Cleveland ministers including
Rev. Walter Grivette and Father Albert Klokoski, along with others. After we members of
HOPE introduced our cause to Congressman Vanik, we were eventually given a hearing before
the Senate, in which I was allowed to speak about the plight of the poor.
After the hearing, President Lyndon Johnson sent Vice President Hubert
Humphrey to Cleveland to see what the housing conditions were like before any money could
be allocated. I served on the host committee for the vice presidents visit. The men
in our committee, my husband included, worked with the FBI to guarantee safety. The host
committee escorted Vice President Humphrey through the streets of Hough and Vice President
Humphrey witnessed firsthand the housing conditions of Hough at that time.
I remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a special way, from an
encounter that took place before the situation in Hough. I was on the refreshment
committee when Dr. King came to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. My relatives would hold
meetings for the Citizens for Justice at their home, and I along with others, would serve
refreshments while the ministers were strategizing. Dr. King was a man who had a mission.
He was so ingrained into his mission, that he rarely smiled; but when he did, this big
laugh would come. He would just break into pieces, and then go back to that serious look
on his face.
After my husband and I had married, we found ourselves becoming
involved in causes to help improve the standard of living for people. We started to
understand what it meant to be led by God. There were many experiences where I was able to
I came to know the
Lord through many different people. I was brought up in more or less a religious
environment. My mother was one (who said) you had to go to church or you didnt go to
the movie. I would always go to church because I always liked to go to the movie on
Wednesdays. I am a firm believer, now, that the steps of the righteous are ordered by the
Lord, even though the Lord has to instill His righteousness within us. We moved out of
Alabama, (newly married) after high school, and we moved to New York. And God began to put
people in my path. Sanctified people! I was really afraid of them. I just
thought they were crazy. My aunt had a friend that worked with her in the city and she
said, You know, Willie Mae, you have got to meet Bernelle, that was her name,
because shes sanctified and holy. Oh, youll just love her. My aunt
would come out on weekends to the city (we lived in Long Island), and she would tell me,
Oh, God is going to use you.
I said, Whats wrong with this woman? She sounds like one of
those sanctified people. She said, Oh honey I could just see God in your
I said, Why do you keep saying that? I dont understand what
youre talking about.
She said, You will one day, honey, when youre saved. Get
I said, What do you mean, "get saved?" Do you mean
Thats not gonna work, (she would say). She was so
loving and so kind, and even though she would get on my nerve, I couldnt even make
After we moved to Cleveland, the love of God continued to show through
others that we encountered. We stayed with my aunt, until we found a house for rent on
East 89th Street. We finally got settled in, although we didnt have any furniture at
that time, because we left everything in New York. That evening, my husband went out to
get some cooked food, and while he was gone, someone knocked on my door. I went and I
opened the door, and there was Sister Alice Eubanks. She said, Praise God.
I said, Oh, my God. I knew that word; didnt know much
She said, Im Sister Eubanks, Sister Alice Eubanks, and I
just want to welcome you, praise God. Youre my neighbor, and I live just right down
(Im thinking) Oh God, I cant be bothered with this.
She said, Are you saved? Then I said, Do you mean do
I have religion? She said, Thats OK, God is going to do a good work with
you in your life, I can see that. Welcome!
This lady worked us over. We kept telling her we didnt want to be
bothered with that, we were born Baptist, we were going to die Baptist. Eventually, we
moved to another home in the Cleveland area.
We moved into the projects. We stayed in the projects and our family
began to grow, and I told my husband, We need a house. He talked to someone
about getting a house on land contract. We were living on Quimby.
We moved in the fall so when the spring came, we planted a garden. In
late spring or early summer, the garden really came up. You could see it from the
driveway. We didnt have a garage, but we had a garden in the space in our driveway
where the garage would have been.
A windfall of blessing came for us through meeting an elderly lady
named Mother Taylor, who lived down the street. She came one day and knocked on my door
and she said, Baby, may I have some of your vegetables out of your garden, for some
food? I dont have nothing.
I said, Oh, yes maam.
I allowed Mother Taylor to get what she needed from the garden, and
asked Mother Taylor inside, offering her half of the food in my refrigerator. She looked
at me, and I said, Maam, take this. I had some chicken. I gave her some
chicken, margarine, eggs, everything.
She said, Are you saved, honey?
I got so sick of hearing that question, I said to myself, What does
that have to do with the price of tea in China, lady? All I wanted to do was give you some
food, and here I have met another one of those sanctified people.
She forgot all about the food. She said, Honey, praise God.
She was so gentle. She said, Let me begin to pray for you, pray for this
house. She began to walk around the house, asking God to save this household. She
put her hand on my stomach and she was praying. I was pregnant at that time. I had three
other children looking at me. She went all the way upstairs and down to the basement, just
praying. I called my husband and told him I had another one of those sanctified people in
He said, I dont want to hear about those crazy people,
Willie Mae! I dont want nothing to do with them, so dont even tell me!
That was on a Tuesday.
On Thursday, I got the children all dressed and they were out in the
front yard, and the kids called and said, Hey, mama! Here come the lady that prayed
for your stomach! I tried to get them in the house. My son said, No, mama,
thats the lady that prayed for your stomach! Remember?
So I invited her and her friend in.
Mother Taylor told me how she told the church at prayer meeting what
she did for me two days ago. The Lords prophecy came forth, honey, and the
Lord brought prophecy, and heres Mother Daniel. Mother Daniel just looked like
an angel. She was so gorgeous, she was tall and 83 years old. She (Mother Taylor) said,
Saints said that they put Mother Daniels furniture in storage, and shes
gonna move in here until God completes his work.
So Mother Daniel looked at me, and she said, Praise God, honey.
Show me your largest room.
We had a room where the wall had been torn out, two rooms together, and
that was our bedroom.
She said, Ill take this one. How soon do you think you can
, then she looked at me. She said, You cant do it. Do have a
I said, Yes, maam. Then she called her son-in-law.
Now her son-in-law had one of the biggest after hours joints in the
area, and thats where my husband would go sometimes and gather with the boys (after
work). She said, Henry, I want you to get some of your boys over here and to help.
Im moving in today; and I want you to move my bedroom set over here, and that
was around 10:00 in the morning. At 1:00 p.m., Mother Daniel was in the house lock, stock
I told my husband about the move-in of Mother Daniel, and he did not
take the news very well; but Mother Daniel had a plan to bring us a blessing. Mother
Daniel came, and she said, Dont worry, honey. God is gonna take care of
everything. She told her son-in-law, Henry, I want you to go to that furniture
store up there; these children need furniture. God is gonna provide for them. Ms. Wright,
just write down what you need, and my son-in-law will bring it
She needs a living
room set. She needs a dining room set. Henry we need a stove in here, we only have a hot
plate. We need chairs. Lets go upstairs, baby. She said, Henry,
youd better do this, because Ill bet you her husband comes at your after hours
joint. God is going to take that
And Henry said, Mama, Ill do it; just dont start
telling me what Gods gonna do.
When Brother Wright got home, I could see him coming down the street.
He was walking and he was so frowned up, I didnt know whether to stay on the porch
and let the neighbors see him kill me, or go in and then no one would see him kill me.
When he hit the door, he walked hard, I just had to move back in the house. He was just
looking at me. By that time, Mother Daniel just came downstairs and turned the corner. She
said, Praise God.
Mr. Wright responded. How do you do, maam.
She said, The Lord tells me He has a mighty work that Hes
going to do in both your life and your wifes life, and Hes going to save your
household, even your unborn children, Mr. Wright, even the children that you dont
even know about yet.
My husband melted in the sweet mothers hands like glue.
He said, Make yourself at home, maam. Stay as long as you
like. He asked me, Where did all of this stuff come from? You know I
cant afford to pay for this.
I told him, She told her son-in-law to bring all this.
He said, Do you know who her son-in-law is?"
I said, You know the guy that runs the after hours joint?
Henry?" he shot back.
I said, Yes. Henry.
He said, God must be doing something."
Mother Daniel stayed with us for three years to see us get saved. She
would get up early in the morning and have Bible class with us before Brother Wright went
to work and again in the evening. It was just such a blessing how God placed her there all
because we gave. You cant beat God giving. Momentarily, this woman wanted a few
vegetables out of our garden, but I gave her everything that we had; and out of that, God
blessed us with household salvation. Every one of my children got saved, and so did my
When she got ready to move, Mother Daniel got up early one morning. She
said, The Lord said I can go back now, you all are ready to go on your own. We
just cried; we didnt want her to go. Thats how I got saved.
God sent those mothers, Mother Taylor and Mother Daniel. I was saved in
the year 1960, and has been that way for 39 years.
When I was a kid, I used to love to sing. We lived way out in the
country on the north side of Montgomery, Alabama. If you could call or scream out loud,
your echo, a delayed echo, would come back. I used to go down by the rivers, and I
discovered that I really could sing. It was something in me that made me feel good when I
sung songs. So I would start singing, and then I would wait, and I would sing a few bars
and I would wait and hear my echo come back and it was starting to sound good, and I would
sing a little more. Then people began to look for me to sing. My great-great-great
grandmother used to call me her music box. And I used to sing a lot for her. She was a
former slave. She gave me a lot of old spirituals. A lot of old spirituals, were used as
messages. Our fathers, they could strike up a message for one another to get free from
I started a singing group with my children: the Wright Family Singers.
The Lord has opened many doors. Working with Father Jim ODonnell, I used to sing all
the time when they would ask me, and thats what got me to Rome, Italy in 1975. It
was Jubilee year there, which the Catholic Church would celebrate every 50 years there.
They had a lot of people going to Rome, and I dont know today who paid my way, but
Father Jim told me, Someone paid your way, and they want you to go with us.
On our first evening, Father Jim told me, Willie, tomorrow
morning were going to start on our ten-day pilgrimage, and we want you to go.
So over the night, I had a dream. I dreamt that I was in this vast hall, and it looked
like I was singing, and I remember the song that I sang was, He Touched Me.
The next day, Father Jim said, Were going to St. Francis of
Assisi, and the next three days were going on our pilgrimage, then were going
to come back here, and were going to start our services. They were Charismatics.
I told Father, I cant go. The Lord wants me just to fast
and pray. So he didnt question me, and I stayed and fasted and prayed.
The third day, Father Jim asked me, Would you sing for us,
I said, Okay.
When I walked in that hall, there were about 10,000 people. It was a
place where the young men would give service to the Pope. When I walked in that hall, my
dream just came alive.
When I was called to sing, I went up and sang, He Touched
Me The Pope heard me on television. The next morning, when we had service, someone
started paging me. I didnt know what it was. I was afraid my husband was sick at
that time, and I told them if I had to go back home, I would. I thought that they were
paging me about him.
When I reached the phone, I heard from one of the men in service to the
He said, The Pope heard you sing last night, and he would like to
know if you would be his honored guest.
I was standing there with the phone and thinking, Nobodys
gonna believe this. I said, But what am I supposed to do?
At the Vatican Square, there were many people who came to see the Pope,
when I was led through the crowd to meet him. "They were bringing the Pope in on this
thing, like what they used to carry Cleopatra. When they set him down in his chair, he
prayed for me. He said, God has given you an anointing, even then before the
word anointing became so popular. He said, Out of your ministry of singing, it would
heal wounded hearts and cause people to leap for Jesus.
I had to have about ten people around me at all times, because they
were looking to him for being their leader, and me, not even Catholic? The Pope laid hands
on me and said, He will use you the rest of your life; and as you grow older, you
are going to be greater. I sang the songs, He Touched Me, Amazing Grace, and the
Pope requested, Michael Row the Boat Ashore.
Thats how I got to sing for the Pope. I didnt even think of
having an audience with the Pope; but God opened that door. And even now, when we were
getting sympathy cards about my husband, there were people who were writing about Rome.
I recently traveled to Zaire in Africa. While there, I saw poverty, but
in a much different state than what we see in the U.S. We were able to help the
missionaries over there to build an intercessory prayer group targeted for them. But one
thing that the Lord showed me going there, is that we are so blessed here in America that
we are spoiled, and we take God for granted. Those people get up at 4:00 am and walk,
about the same distance as from Cleveland to Akron, to go to a service where they would
stand all day, eating one meal so they can walk back. You cant even get us to drive
our cars to church. We complain about everything, and those people stand out in 125-degree
heat, praising God. There is no church, just a tent, and posts. People would come and sit
on the ground. I started to fit in so well over there, they started calling me Mama. I
just never saw such devastation and poverty. I cried. I was there 23 days. I was moved by
the great faith of the people I met in Africa and plan to return; yet I am so very
thankful to be in America. C
Editors note: Willie Wright moves on as a woman of faith. She continues her melodic
ministries of singing, praying, and speaking on behalf of those who are touched by