Musing on Joe Niles . . .
Short of a divine intervention in the form of a miracle, fans, friends and well-wishers of the man who helped put Barbados on the map with his inimitable brand of gospel music for the past 50 years, should prepare for the worst.
However, Joseph Niles –– known as the Godfather Of Gospel Music in Barbados –– continues to “hold on”, as the complications associated with his dementia, which came to public attention some four years ago, take their toll on his health.
I visited Joseph at home this afternoon, but am constrained to disclose any details of his condition as a goodwill gesture of respect for the wishes of his family.
It has not been easy on his wife, who continues to provide the kind of personal care and attention which only a loving spouse can.
She needs our prayers for continued strength and endurance, as she almost single-handedly cares for her husband, a man whom she shared with the music world for about five decades.
The saying “out of sight, out of mind” could easily apply here with Joseph, if we do not keep his memory alive. I intend to play my part in doing so.
Adrian Agard and his Barbados Gospelfest team are also doing what they can to ensure his legacy is ongoing. That is why the Joseph Niles Legacy Lecture was introduced back in 2012 as an integral part of the annual Gospelfest –– and is still going strong. The Gospelfest producers also set up a fund at Scotia Bank (#516087), the proceeds of which are donated to his wife periodically as tangible support in caring for Joe.
Joseph’s dedication to and passion for the art form can be traced to that moment in his life more than 50 years ago when he quit his “safe” job as a conductor with the Transport Board and took up singing as a career. Little did he know he would have become the concrete for the foundation on which gospel music in Barbados would be built.
Lest we forget –– especially our new generation of local Christian artistes –– Joseph Niles and others of his era undoubtedly paved the way for the modern crop of singers to hone their musical skills. It is quite appropriate to reflect, therefore, on the life of Joseph at this time.
That indelible mark he made on the musical landscape in Barbados –– and the Caribbean –– is exactly why the organizers of Barbados Gospelfest decided to introduce the annual lecture in his name.
Even though his dementia forced him to stop singing and recording music about four years ago, the plethora of albums and singles Joseph has produced remains very much with us today, and will certainly do so as long as there is music.
His unique brand of music –– and sound, his commitment to the Afro-Caribbean art form, and his ever-flowing river of songs have left an unmistakeable footprint on the musical sands of time which his modern counterparts could only admire –– and emulate.
And if you would permit me to take you down memory lane, some of his most popular songs which we –– young, old and in-between –– have sung and danced to, and I can readily think of include This Train, Walking Up The King’s Highway, I Know Where I Am Going, Royal Telephone, Try A Little Kindness, Live Your Religion, Just A Rose, Beautiful Robes, How Beautiful Heaven Must Be and Hard Road To Travel.
And just in case you thought I forgot. No! Joseph Niles became famous singing with his Consolers in the 1960s and 1970s. During that period, the woman we now refer to as the Queen Of Gospel –– Sister Margrita Marshall –– also made her name in the early days singing with the Consolers, along with Ann Riley.
In those days, to sing with, or to be backed by the Consolers, was like being the opening act for the late Michael Jackson or superstars of that ilk.
I had the privilege of singing, albeit only once, on the same bandstand as Niles and the Consolers, and being backed by that famous group.
I daresay that any history that is ever written about Christian music and song in Barbados would be totally incomplete, if it did not include Joseph Niles, who had taken the Bajan gospel music across the Caribbean and the wider world.
His music and other awards have flooded a special room in his house dedicated to such accolades.
Let me end with one of Niles’ famous sayings: “It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice.” I am outta here. Blessings!