Calvin Newton has enjoyed several careers in his 50 years in music, including success as a gospel singer and a stint producing some of the more interesting garage rock of the mid-'60s southern and border states. Born in West Frankfort, Illinois, Newton was the son of a coal miner who was also a Church of God preacher and founded churches in Illinois, Tennessee, and Kentucky. During the '40s, Newton was a member of the Melody Masters and the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, where he sang first tenor. After serving in the Korean War, he became a singer with the gospel group the Gaither "Homecoming Family," with whom he later toured Great Britain and North Ireland. He also performed with the Oak Ridge Quartet during the mid-'50s, he is reported to have brought a rock & roll-like intensity to some of their performances. He also made one venture into rock & roll himself with "Just as You Are," which made it onto Dick Clark's American Bandstand; his most enduring record, however, was "When They Ring Those Golden Bells," which was used as the theme music for 17 years on Joe Rumore's gospel radio program out of Birmingham, Alabama. Newton led the gospel singing group the Sons of Song from the end of the '50s through the early '60s, recording several times with them and performing with Mahalia Jackson at Tennessee State University in Johnson City, in what was reportedly the first interracial gospel concert ever given in the southeastern United States. During the mid-'60s, Newton's career took a strange but rewarding left turn into music production when he founded the Justice Recording Company of Winston-Salem, North Carolina -- he recorded all kinds of music, becoming a kind of Sam Phillips of the Tarheel State, including a sizable number of local garage bands -- there were no talents remotely equivalent to Howlin' Wolf or Elvis Presley among those he recorded, but he managed to preserve the work of dozens of teenagers (some as young as 13) who seldom, if ever, played more than 20 miles from their homes, to be reissued by Collectables Records in the '90s and he savored by music historians. Newton was honored with the "Living Legend Award" by the Grand Old Gospel Convention in 1999, and was still active in music in 2003; his children and their families are all active in gospel or country music. ~ Bruce Eder
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