Pauline W. Lewis, 87, radio host, gospel singer

August 16, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Pauline Wells Lewis, known to thousands of Baltimore-area gospel music fans as Aunt Pauline or the Godmother of Gospel during a career as a radio-show host and gospel singer, died Tuesday of heart failure at Mercy Medical Center.

For more than 50 years, Mrs. Wells, 87, of West Baltimore sang and was host of gospel music radio shows in Baltimore and nationwide.

"She worked her own style, and it was such a great delivery she had," said Su Wood, station manager for WBGR-AM, Mrs. Lewis' last radio station, where she worked until health problems forced her to resign this year.

Although in recent years she was known more as a radio personality -- she had a gentle demeanor, a steady and smooth delivery, and an unmatched recall of gospel songs and the artists (even those who performed the remakes) -- her radio career began as a gospel singer.

Throughout the 1940s, Mrs. Wells and her sister, Sylvia Person, sang as a gospel duet on the "Open Heart Hour" each Sunday, broadcast on WANN-AM in Annapolis. The show was popular, and they later performed on WITH-AM.

Their show was titled "Inspiration Time," and ended with the hymn "Lord Keep Me Day By Day," one of Mrs. Wells' favorite songs.

"People looked forward to hearing [it]. They had an unmatched gospel sound that was graceful and elegant," said Rodney Perrings, a former pianist who performed with the sisters at church shows.

Later, Mrs. Wells was a gospel announcer for radio stations WSID-AM and WEBB-AM in Baltimore and OK-100 in Washington. She also briefly was host of a public television gospel show.

"She was a people person. They always came first with her," said Naomi DuRant, host of a WBGR gospel show and was Mrs. Lewis' friend for more than 30 years. "She was one of the best emcees in the world. She was glib; she made everyone seem so important."

In recent years, Mrs. Lewis decreased her on-air time. As recently as February, she was host of a seniors' day show for several hours on Mondays. Because of her popularity, the station considered allowing Mrs. Lewis to do her show from home by telephone, Ms. Wood said.

A native of Gary, Ind., the former Pauline Saunders came to Baltimore in the 1930s. Shortly afterward, she and her sisters formed a gospel singing group, the Western Song Birds, and sang in the Baltimore-Washington area.

In the 1940s, she joined the Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church in Northwest Baltimore, where she organized and sang in the choirs. One of her favorite choirs there was the Do What You Can Choir, a children's group she directed.

Because of her influence, big-name gospel recording acts, such as Mahalia Jackson, the Harmonizing Four, the Roberta Martin Singers and the Rev. James Cleveland and his singers, came to her church to perform.

Friends, family and co-workers said Mrs. Wells was instrumental in having young gospel singers' music played on the radio. She encouraged them to send their music and placed the songs in her music rotation.

"She spawned a lot of musical careers," Ms. DuRant said. "She just helped so many people."

Services are scheduled for 10: 30 a.m. Monday at Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church, 4016 Park Heights Ave.

Mrs. Lewis, who was twice widowed, is survived by a son, John Wells; a daughter, Margaret Wells Harris; two sisters, Lucille Guyton and Julia Harrison; and 11 grandchildren. All are of Baltimore.

Pub date: 8/16/98

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