Arts & Culture
10:32 am
Tue November 5, 2013

Milwaukee's Masonic Wonders Celebrate Over 50 Years of Gospel Singing

Lake Effect's Bonnie North interviews the Masonic Wonders, Milwaukee's longest continually running gospel quartet.

Meet the Masonic Wonders. The group has been performing gospel music in Milwaukee for more than a half-century.

And there's good reason: the Masonic Wonders may not be from far away, but their sound has traveled far in time.

The Masonic Wonders are the longest continually performing black gospel quartet in Milwaukee. They've been singing together since 1956, when they formed at a local Masonic lodge. Two of the four original members, Charles McCullum and Charles Carter, are still with the quartet.

The pair first met in church, and McCullum wanted to bring Carter into the newly formed group.

"I asked him about singing and so forth and, 'Yeah, I can sing," McCullum says. But, it turns out Carter was lying.

"I really did, I knew nothing about singing with a group," Carter says. "I couldn't even keep time...So they took me in and taught me how to sing, and now I keep them in line."

Carter says he considers his bandmates as "brothers" and has no intentions of stopping singing anytime soon.

"It's been a part of my life," he says. "I think it kept me straight, it kept me out of jail. I've been singing with them for 57 years...so I can't give it up now. I'm here to stay."

Members Sylvester McIntosh and Felix Willis echo that sentiment. Both are consider the "newer" members, even though they've been with the group for more than two decades.

"I have no intention of going anywhere else," says "the youngest" McIntosh. "I'm with the Masonic Wonders."

It's a wonder that any band can stay together so long, but McCullum says it's simple: listen to each other and leave egos at the door.

"There's no big 'I's' and little 'you's,'" he says. "We hear one another. We don't have no stars in the group. If there's a star, all of them are stars, not just one person. We don't believe in that."

The quartet also remains close knit because of their mutual dedication to their faith. Carter calls singing praise music "a ministry," and McCullum says it inspires the group to get even better.

"We're trying to going higher, higher heights in the Lord," he says. "This man made us and he knows all about us, and he don't owe us nothing. We owe it to him."

So they practice in their rehearsal space at Newborn Christ Baptist Church at 17th and Center. McCullum says they want to give their audience a taste of their passion for their faith.

"When you sing it, if you can't feel it, there's no use singing, you know," he says. "It's got to be a part of you. You've got to feel it. If you can't feel it, you can't look for nobody else to feel it."

That focus in purpose has paid off. The group and its backup band have recorded two albums, and have played gigs from Summerfest to local churches. But Carter says it isn't really about getting praise.

"Regardless who it is, we sound good to each other. We don't know how other people think, but we sound all right to ourselves, so that keeps us going," he says.

You can hear all of the songs they performed, engineered by Jon Strelecki, below.  This interview originally aired on Friday, September 20, 2013.

The Masonic Wonders sing several gospel songs at their rehearsal space at the Newborn Christ Baptist Church at 17th and Center.

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