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Bishop Albert Jamison
Few would have imagined that, ten years after the tragic loss of gospel music’s greatest ambassador – Rev. James Cleveland – the Gospel Music Workshop Of America would actually thrive to new heights with thousands of new gospel fans, international chapters abounding and industry players and recording artists all making the mandatory trip to the annual music convention.
But that’s exactly what has unfolded under the meek and mild leadership of Bishop Albert Jamison, Sr. who’s assumed the enormous task of steering this organization into new frontiers. And what a remarkable job he’s done. Providing a sense of newfound energy, integrity and spirituality, Bishop Jamison has rekindled the organization from its roots up and the fruit is already beginning to bear.
Jamison’s experience began nearly thirty years ago, as the Chapter Representative for the Eastern New York Chapter of the GMWA. Soon discovering his locution was filled with the ability to lead in more arenas than just the convention, Albert Jamison enrolled and graduated from the Martin Luther King Seminary and Hampton University. In a short while, Bishop Jamison employed his fervent leadership to ministry by serving as the pastor for the Mount Carmel Baptist Church, where he’s continued to serve for the last seventeen years.
Adding to his portfolio of ‘good-work’, Bishop Jamison launched the evangelical Pentecost At Any Cost ministry, while finding time to serve as the Financial Overseer of the Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship and a board member of the African-American Religious Connection. His charitable work also includes offering his time as a member of the ministerial board for the Leukemia Society and as a director for the People United To Save Our Children.
With major miles under his belt, Bishop Jamison has gained the respect, knowledge and confidence to take one of America’s largest African-American conventions and make it bigger and better each year. Recently, we stopped the chairman of the board in his tracks to get his take on the GMWA. The bishop made our chase a worthy catch.
CHRISTOPHER HERON: Bishop Jamison, how did you feel about this year’s GMWA convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota?
BISHOP ALBERT JAMISON, Sr.: It was both good and different.
CHRISTOPHER: What made it different?
BISHOP JAMISON: The venue and the people we were dealing with in Minnesota. As you know, Minnesota doesn’t have that many blacks so it looked different but it was good. Everybody we talked to of any prominence was corporate America. But there was no problem with that because we’ve grown beyond color. It was a blessing for us: it gave us another experience we didn’t have before - we need to have it.
CHRISTOPHER: I got the sense that the visibility of the GMWA in Minneapolis left an impact on the city?
BISHOP JAMISON: Most definitely we left an impact on the city. Anytime you can fill up all of downtown, it leaves an impact. The people in the area were wondering what was going on. What made it even better was we were just before the National Baptist Convention. If we were there after them, I don’t think we would’ve left the kind of impact we did. But we were the trailblazers; we opened up the way.
CHRISTOPHER: How will it feel, next year, to return to where it all began for the GMWA - Detroit, Michigan?
BISHOP JAMISON: Detroit is home; we’re looking forward to going home. We already know everything is going to be packed; we already know Detroit doesn’t have the availability of hotels that is normal for a city that size. We have to go 10 or 15 miles out AND over to Canada to get rooms. There are three big hotels downtown: Park Tree, Courtyard and Marriott. There’s a smaller hotel but they only have 100 rooms. So we’re dealing with a situation where there’s no room in the inn.
CHRISTOPHER: You’ve been the GMWA chairperson for several years now. How did that evolution from general GMWA member to chapter rep in New York and then to full leadership at the board level evolve, step by step?
BISHOP JAMISON: I’ve been a part of the workshop for thirty years, now; I worked my way up. I oftentimes let people know I worked in every area and facet of the convention. I worked from Asst. Chapter Rep. to Chapter Rep; from Chapter Rep. on the Board of Chapter Rep. to Asst. Vice-President of Chapter Reps. Board under Charles Nicks. Then the late Rev. James Cleveland placed me on the Board. When I was on the Board of Directors I was Vice Chair Ministry, on the Finance committee and then I became Chairperson. Nobody got me anything. As the scripture says, “Whatever is right I’ll pay, be faithful with a few things and I will give you many.” I worked my way and was at the right place at the right time. The Lord blessed me to get where I am.
CHRISTOPHER: How influential was the late Rev. James Cleveland on your musical and administrative skills, as you served under his leadership?
BISHOP JAMISON: Rev. Cleveland was the first one to share with me that I had the ability to become one of the nation’s greatest leaders. When he said that I laughed at him, I thought he was playing. I was in Washington, D.C with the late Warren Andrews and we went to meet Rev. because the chapter was given to me. I asked Rev. Cleveland, “Are you sure” and he said, “Yes.” So I said, “Fine, I’ll do the best I can with it.” Now I knew I wasn’t an organist or a piano player; I was just a director and singer. He told me on several occasions I was going to be one the people to bring the convention to the level it needed to be at. I laughed at him again because when I saw who he already had sitting around the table and then looked at myself, I laughed at him. He said, “Don’t worry about your incapability; playing isn’t everything. You have the ability to lead people, you have a love for people; when you have a love for people that makes a lot of difference.”
When he died, nobody could believe it happened. It was like Moses and the children of Israel – how could Moses die like this? Moses isn’t supposed to die. We came together, the board at the time. Ed Smith and Al Hobbs were the two guys who were leading the pack, if I may say. There were those trying to convince me to throw my name in the bucket but I was not released to do that. I said, “No, this is not the right time for me.” There were those who said it was the right time but I knew and was sensing how everything was with the Spirit; I knew the right time from the wrong time. Al Hobbs and Ed Smith ran; Al Hobbs got it and he went with it. While Al Hobbs was Chairperson for four years, I was his Vice-Chair Ministry. I was going across the country working with Ed Smith going to different cities. I was a pastor/preacher and Ed Smith wanted a pastor/preacher to be with him everywhere he went. When we went to cities where we had to deal with ministers or pastors, I was the person he would put upfront. The scripture says, “May your gift make room for you and bring you before great men.”
CHRISTOPHER: Your church, Pleasant Grove Tabernacle, must be a very patient group of Christians, as you’ve split your time and energy between your church and administrative duties for the GMWA. How do you manage to balance your frightening schedule?
BISHOP JAMISON: Have the right people around you; that’s with anything. The day of the one-man show is over. Any successful business or ministry must have the right people in key positions. The scripture says Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, spoke to him saying, “Moses, you’re going to wear yourself out if you don’t put people to help you counsel the people or take care of the business of Israel.” Today we call that the Jethro principles. Every leader must have the right people around them, just like the president of the United States. We’re fighting a war now and he’s not there; he sends people in there to do what they need to do.
With any ministry that’s going to flourish, any ministry God is going to be the center of, it won’t be built on one man. Years ago you were able to do that, but now it’s a different day. I believe we are living in the day of corporate anointing not the singular anointing. In the old days, it took one man to build a church and to keep it. We are dealing with so many problems and issues. People are hurting, we need counselors to help deal with the situations. That’s one of the things that helps me; I have the right people in the ministry that help me minister to the people. I do what the Bible says a singer/pastor should do. It says, “The singer man or woman of the house should dream dreams, see visions and pray for the right word,” and that’s what I do. A lot of times we say the pastor should do a lot of other things, but that’s not biblical; it’s more doctrine than it is biblical. But if you search the Bible, it says the singer person of the house, whether it be male or female should dream dreams, see visions and make the vision clear - and that’s all I do. In everyday language I just direct traffic.
The success to winning the battle was that every man studied his own place. In the body of Christ every man must know his place, and after knowing your place, every man must stand in his place. That’s the problem across America; we have everybody doing everybody else’s job (i.e. deacons doing the trustees job, the trustees doing the deacons job, the choir doing the ushers job and ushers doing everybody’s job). We need to define our job and stay in our lane. My hardest job is really directing traffic. When I come in, I make sure everything is done and everybody brings their reports to me. I have people around me I trust that help and direct me; they tell me what needs to get done.
CHRISTOPHER: Well, how do you deal with “traffic jams?”
BISHOP JAMISON: “Traffic jams” are because somebody isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do. Somewhere they made a wrong turn or there’s a block in the intersection…I always realize I cannot have anybody blocking the intersection and have to allow everybody to move in their own way. Where it says you can’t make a left turn, you can’t make a left turn, another corner says no U turn so, etc. Pastors must make sure everybody is doing their job. They must be able to preach the vision and the word of God and keep the vision alive to the people on Sunday. In the Bible, again the Jethro principles, “Sheep get sheep and shepherds get sheep” So sheep all week long beget sheep and bring sheep here for me to preach to on Tuesday night and Sunday morning.
CHRISTOPHER: Currently you oversee one of the largest African-American conventions in America. What is your vision for the GMWA? What would you like it to represent to Christians, the African-American community and, of course, to the emerging gospel music industry?
BISHOP JAMISON: We have grown so much, we don’t even look at ourselves as one of the largest African-American convention; we look at ourselves as the largest gospel convention in the world. This year we had over 1,500 people who came from outside the U.S.; from the Soviet Union, Bahamas, Japan, etc. This year we had 150 delegates from China and Japan - the largest we’ve ever had. We joined with Northwest Airlines to bring a group from the Soviet Union, 10 of them came for the first time, they got visas and Northwest Airlines volunteered to fly them here.
We had over 5,000 quartets this year, over 1,000 gospel rap artists - where can you go and have all of this in one house? We recorded 5 albums from the different departments – men, women, James Cleveland Chorus (for the first time), the youth, and the mass choir - all recording under one umbrella, one convention. We hit every facet - where else can you go and see over 5,000 people attending classes? We also look at gospel music as an art form. The New York Board of Education is allowing individuals to get credit for it. Hopefully, in the next 10 years in each of the major cities, we can hook up with other boards of education and do the same thing. Who can teach music better than us? This is our type of music, whether you be black, white, Chinese, Japanese - who can do it but those who do it on Sunday morning?
We’re trying to override the categorizing under one banner because it’s too big now. Chinese folks are eating it [gospel] up, in Japan those folks are eating it up; we’re over there, at least, six times a year. We just sent 10 people overseas for six months, they are on salary teaching gospel music because the folks overseas love what we do. We are breaking the barriers of not only being African-American; looking at the big picture, there is nobody else doing it. The season is right, in other words. The harvest right now is for us to go into the entire world preaching and teaching - that’s what we do.
CHRISTOPHER: It must be a wonderful feeling to see an organization you’ve always been involved with grow into an important institution recognized around the world. What does bring you the greatest joy or makes you proudest, in terms of your association with the GMWA?
BISHOP JAMISON: Well, one of the greatest feelings I have and what blesses me is knowing when my time is up, I’ve left something to say I loved the people and to know that when I’m no longer here, someone will come behind me saying there was an Albert Jamison that kept moving. I think that’s one of the greatest things t I can thank God for; He found favor in me and could trust and use me through His work. It’s not my work, it’s His work; it’s not my will, it’s His will. Whatever we have in heaven is going to be based on what we did on earth, therefore I want to do everything I can because when we get to heaven because “every man shall be paid according to his works.” If that’s just money that wouldn’t help because sometimes you are so tired you can’t even enjoy money, sometimes it’s not even worth it.
After one of the Daily Bread Services, a girl from Japan came up and said to me, crying, that she had received God that day. I brought her up in front of 7,000 people to testify that she was saved. Well that’s one of the greatest things that could ever happen to anybody, to see that. People were astonished and praises went up to the Lord because she was touched. She wanted to thank me for having the preaching segment involved in our convention. Can anybody get a greater joy than that? Just to know you are helping people. The greatest joy and fulfillment is to see people being blessed. One guy told me he was HIV positive and thinking about committing suicide. But he heard a song that encouraged him, a song made him take a new approach on life, so now he believes he can make it and he’s not going to commit suicide anymore. That’s a blessing and it encourages people in my arena of ministry.
Sometimes you get tired, sometimes you feel like people don’t appreciate what you do and then there are times when you ask yourself, “Is it worth it all?” But when you know Who you are doing it for and why you’re doing it, you can make it.