Bishop Rance Allen, revered gospel music legend, dies at 71

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Bishop Rance Allen, revered gospel music legend, dies at 71
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LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 11: The Rance Allen Group appears on the 2010 BET “Celebration of Gospel” at the Orpheum Theatre, December 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Phil McCarten/PictureGroup) Bishop Rance Allen, an acclaimed singer and highly influential figure in the modern gospel music genre, […]

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LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 11: The Rance Allen Group appears on the 2010 BET “Celebration of Gospel” at the Orpheum Theatre, December 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Phil McCarten/PictureGroup)

Bishop Rance Allen, an acclaimed singer and highly influential figure in the modern gospel music genre, died on Oct. 31.

He was 71.

“While recovering from a medical procedure at Heartland ProMedica (in Sylvania, Ohio), Bishop Rance Allen passed away around 3 a.m. this morning,” said Allen’s wife, Ellen Allen, and his manager, Toby Jackson, in a joint statement released on Oct. 31.

The vocalist-guitarist-pianist will be widely remembered for leading the Grammy-nominated gospel-soul outfit the Rance Allen Group, which he formed in the late 1960s with his brothers Tom and Steve, respectively, on drums and bass. Within a few years of getting its start, the group inked a deal with the legendary Stax Records label and delivered a number of popular albums during the next decade.

“In the 1970s, they pioneered a fusion of R&B rhythms with spiritually charged message music on hits such as ‘Ain’t No Need of Crying,’ ‘I Belong to You’ and their cover of The Temptation’s ‘Just My Imagination’ as ‘Just My Salvation,'” according to the statement. “The retro-soul vibe carried over into the group’s hits of the last two decades such as ‘You That I Trust,’ ‘Miracle Worker’ and ‘Something About the Name Jesus,’ which has clocked over 175 million streams.”

The group’s calling card was its modern mix of gospel, soul, rock and pop music, characterized by its frontman’s unique delivery.

“Allen’s signature grunts and squalls have inspired a generation of gospel artists ranging from Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond to John P. Kee and Bryan Andrew Wilson,” according to the statement.

The musical gained the Rance Allen Group many notable fans in popular music, such as former “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson, Bay Area pop-rock great Huey Lewis and Tyscot Records president Bryant Scott.

“I wasn’t expecting to hear this news this morning,” said Scott, who was reportedly nearly speechless upon hearing of the singer’s death. “This is a great loss to us personally but also to the church community at large.”

Allen was born Nov. 19, 1948, in Monroe, Michigan, one of 12 children in his family, and began singing and preaching as Little Rance Allen at the age of five.

“We were raised in a family where you went to church every single night,” he is quoted as saying. “To keep our interest, my grandmother Emma Pearl went to a pawn shop and brought instruments, drums, guitars and amplifiers.”

The first song recorded by the Rance Allen Group was “Let’s Get Together and Love,” an appropriately psychedelic song reflecting the popular music styles for the times,” according to the news release.

Stax president Al Bell was so impressed with the group that he started a gospel imprint — dubbed the Gospel Truth — just to promote Rance Allen and his brothers. That led directly to the group sharing concert bills with such star acts as Barry White and the Dramatics, helping to spread their message to fans outside of the gospel music realm.

Allen and his group continued to perform throughout the decades, even producing the best-selling album of their career — “The Live Experience” — in 2004. That’s the album that featured the hit “Something About the Name Jesus,” which featured gospel star Kirk Franklin. In 2018, hip-hop hero Snoop Dogg featured Allen on his Top 10 gospel hit, “Blessing Me Again,” which won a BET Award for Best Gospel/Inspirational Song in 2019.

“At the time of his death, there were plans in the works for Allen to record a new gospel album with contributions from PJ Morton, Charlie Wilson and Kirk Franklin before the COVID19 pandemic put the project on hold,” according to the statement. “The Rance Allen Group’s most recent studio recording, ‘I’m So Glad It’s Christmas (Tyscot),’ was released on all-digital music platforms on Oct. 30, 2020.”

Allen also focused heavily on evangelism, having founded the New Bethel Church of God COGIC (Church of God in Christ) in July 1985. He was elevated to bishop in the COGIC in 2011.

Allen is survived by wife Ellen, brothers, Steve and Tom, and other family members.

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