Ray Edwards, 58, a flamboyant gospel artist and radio personality who captivated audiences with foot-stomping, inspirational gospel music and much more, died June 24 at George Washington University Hospital. He had cancer.
Mr. Edwards was the Sunday afternoon voice on WOL-AM and WYCB-AM radio for about 10 years, transforming a District studio into an electronic pulpit by delivering soul-stirring tunes, prayers and tearful testimonies. He also was a popular gospel concert host who liked to arrive at events in fur coats, tailor-made suits and fancy sports cars, the last one being a silver Jaguar.
He was substance as well as style.
The Rev. Willie F. Wilson, pastor of the District's Union Temple Baptist Church, said Mr. Edwards's death marks the end of an era. "He was one of the last of the old gospel DJs who would stop the music and talk. People today want just to listen to the music, but Ray wasn't just interested in playing records -- he wanted to have church on the air."
Mr. Edwards introduced Washington area gospel lovers to many young artists before their rise to the top of the gospel charts. Among them are Yolanda Adams, Jessy Dixon and Take 6, according Kirdell Minor, founder and director of the Jubilee Majestic Concert Choir.
Vurnes Ray Edwards was born in Suffolk, Va. After high school, he moved to Washington, where he took a job as an administrative assistant working for the National Education Association.
But Mr. Edwards had a passion for a gospel career. He moved to California in the late 1960s and joined the Cornerstone Inspirational Baptist Church, pastored by the Rev. James Cleveland, a gospel legend who died in 1991. Mr. Edwards sang and recorded with some of Cleveland's choirs as well as with the Southern California Community Choir.
Mr. Edwards eventually moved to the San Francisco Bay area and attended colleges including Laney College, where he majored in theology. Mr. Edwards was ordained as a minister and served as assistant pastor of the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Oakland.
Mr. Edwards decided to launch a career in radio, landing his first job at a station in Los Angeles. He later became an on-air personality at stations in San Francisco, Atlanta, New Orleans, Baltimore and Trenton, N.J.
He was part of the announcers guild with the Gospel Music Workshop of America that was founded by Cleveland. In 1994, he was named radio announcer of the year during the 10th Annual Stellar Awards in Chicago. The Stellar is one of the gospel industry's highest awards.
Mr. Edwards moved back to Washington in the early 1980s and rejoined the NEA as an administrative assistant in operations. He retired in 1999. In the early 1990s, he joined WOL and quickly gained a reputation as "Mr. Quality Gospel Himself."
In the late 1990s, Radio One acquired WYCB, the city's 24-hour gospel station, where Mr. Edwards worked for about a year after WOL switched to an all-talk format. He retired from the airwaves but was still popular as a local gospel concert host until his Hodgkin's lymphoma was diagnosed five years ago.
Jeff Majors, a gospel harpist and vice president of gospel programming for Radio One, said Mr. Edwards was more than a radio personality. "A lot of people came to the Lord because of what Ray Edwards did on the radio. His dedications, his songs, his prayers -- it was all for the glory of God," he said.
Survivors include Mr. Edwards's mother, A. Elizabeth Edwards of Suffolk; two sisters, Gladys Edwards of Philadelphia and Rebecca Blakes of Washington; four brothers, Randolph Edwards of Suffolk, Ronald Edwards and Gerald Edwards of Washington, and Michael Edwards of New Jersey.