After the passing of their founder and leader, Willie Banks, on February 1, 1993, the Messengers gospel quartet had two choices—break up or keep pressing on.
The men chose to honor Banks’ memory by singing together as they had since 1971, with Malaco Music Group continuing to serve as their record label.
The post-Banks Messengers consisted of Willie Mitchell, James Williams, Clincy Bell, Charles Blakely, Cecil Kirby and Greg Flowers. Their first album without their founder was 1995’s Pressing Toward the Mark. It included a medley of selections from their 1989 Malaco album, Masterpiece, announced as sung “in remembrance of the late Willie Banks”: Things I Can’t Change, You’ve Been Good to Me and God Is Still in Charge. Not only did the Messengers pay homage to Banks in its repertory, but the group honored his legacy by sustaining its classic gritty southern soul gospel sound.
Angels followed in 1997, its salute to traditional gospel starting with a Haran Griffin composition called A Home Awaiting, which incorporates a medley of gospel songs and spirituals into a new song structure. Other classic gospels and hymns on Angels include Griffin’s strutting arrangements of Old Landmark and What a Friend We Have in Jesus, the latter a passionately sung rendition of the enduring hymn.
Special Delivery hit the streets in 2000, featuring the Messengers’ classic mix of meaty lead singing, thick harmonies, and bass-driven rhythm section. After leaving Malaco, the group released the independent album It Makes Me Cry, featuring the two-part title track, in 2003. In the longstanding tradition of historic balladry, the second part of It Makes Me Cry pays tribute to the legacies of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy: “They brought us from a mighty long way.”
The group’s most recent CD, Waymaker, was released in 2010 on Malaco’s 4 Winds imprint. Produced by Darrell Luster and engineered by Ray Braswell Jr., the album contains traditional songs (a slow, blues-tinged I’m on the Battlefield for My Lord), a Willie Banks composition (Serve Him Till I Die), and songs from the pens of Willie Mitchell, Darrell Luster, Henry Wesley and the Reverend Curtis Watson, among others.
Nearing a half-century of music ministry, the Original Messengers of Jackson, Mississippi, continue to appear at gospel programs and festivals, and host an anniversary musical each November. Current members are Willie Mitchell, Henry Wesley, Frederick “Freddy” Berry, Joshua Steward and Jackie Lee Heard.