Ever since he began touring the Midwest at age 5 as “Little Rance Allen, the Boy Preacher,” the Monroe, Michigan-born vocalist has kept quite busy.
Today, at age 64 and no longer “little,” the hefty musician is more active than ever – recording and performing with his brothers Steve and Tom in the Rance Allen Group, serving as pastor of the 200-member New Bethel Church of God in Christ in Toledo, Ohio, and, for the past 14 months, presiding as the bishop of 15 churches in Michigan and Ohio.
The Allen brothers and their six-piece band will headline a concert, billed as the second annual Charles Reid Gospel Festival, on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium, 403 Civic Center Plaza in Richmond. Also appearing on the 6 p.m. program will be the Mighty Clouds of Joy, African-American gospel music’s preeminent quartet. Tickets are available at Reid’s Records in Berkeley.
The Rance Allen Group’s portion of the concert will be recorded by Tyscot Records. Produced by Chris Byrd — the group’s longtime keyboardist and musical director and a gospel recording artist in his own right – it will be the group’s third live CD for the Indianapolis company.
Bishop Allen will fly back to Toledo immediately after the concert in order to make it to Sunday service. He may not, however, preach the sermon himself.
“I will probably have my assistant ready to go for Sunday morning in case I’m tired,” Bishop Allen says by phone from Toledo. “I have a very capable staff. First of all, my wife is an evangelist. She’s very capable of bringing the message. And I have an assistant pastor who’s also very capable. Between the two of them, I won’t have to worry.”
Along with Andrae Crouch and Edwin Hawkins, Bishop Allen was a pioneer of the progressive gospel movement of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. While recording for the Gospel Truth label, a division of Stax Records in Memphis, he and his brothers revamped secular hits such as the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” and Archie Bell and the Drells’ “There’s Gonna Be a Showdown” by changing the lyrics to reflect their Christian beliefs. Their current Tyscot CD, “Amazing Grace,” includes a version of the Impressions’ “People Get Ready,” but there was no need to alter Curtis Mayfield’s gospel-inspired song.
Bishop Allen played guitar on that track and keyboards on other selections from the disc, but he doesn’t play either instrument at concerts. And Steve and Tom also no longer play bass and drums, respectively, as they once did, but instead supply backup vocals and choreographed steps for their remarkably limber brother.
“These young musicians today are playing like never before,” Bishop Allen says. “It was such a relief to be able to sing a song and not have to worry about playing at the same time.”
“I do what I do,” he adds, “because I feel like I’ve been called upon by God to do it.”