Queens of Harmony Strike a Chord at The Pabst

Feb 20, 2014

Milwaukee’s gospel quartet Queens of Harmony has been singing in Central City churches for almost half a century. They have also performed in Washington, DC and as far away as Japan.

The Queens of Harmony are a quartet, but there are five members of the group: one singer sits out each song so that each voice gets a chance to rest. The current group is Jessie McCullum, the last remaining original member of the group, Julia Love-Brown, Dorothy Ivory, Deberah Estell and Joyce Johnson.

Queens of Harmony began in August 1964. McCullum, who is married to one of founders of Milwaukee's Masonic Wonders, says that their original manager advised that the Queens of Harmony be an a capella group, a vocal group without instrument support.

The songs Queens of Harmony sing are arranged for three background singers and a lead singer. The background singers sing the chord pitches that the instruments would play while the lead singer has the opportunity to improvise the melody. Everyone claps their hands to provide the percussive beat that supports the singing.

Julia Love-Brown, Deberah Estell, Dorothy Ivory, Jessie McCullum, and Joyce Johnson perform in Lake Effect's Studio B.
Credit Bonnie North

This Friday evening, Milwaukee Gospel: Jubilee at the Pabst brings together five of Milwaukee’s great gospel groups for an evening of celebration, and the Queens will perform on the Pabst Theater stage for the first time.

The idea occurred to Jubilee concert organizer John Sieger, a musician who sits on the board of directors at Progressive Community Health Centers.

“I feel this is a culture that demands respect and has sort of been passed by,” says Sieger. “The Pabst means respect. When they said yes, that was a big, big thing for us. I don’t see a downside to paying respect to one of the biggest traditions in America and to helping out people.”

The Queens of Harmony take the stage at the Pabst Theater Friday night, along with the Masonic Wonders, Victory in Praise Youth Choir, the Genesis Singers and the Sharon Travelers. Milwaukee Gospel: Jubilee at the Pabst gets under way at 8pm, and all proceeds from the concert will go to Progressive Community Health Centers.