Reverend Helen Turner-Thompson

Apprenticeship Description
Reverend Turner-Thompson and Scruggs were connected through their commitment to performing gospel and their mutual interest in traditional African-American spiritual music. During their apprenticeship, Turner-Thompson and Scruggs focused on studying the music of composers and musicians, such as Kenneth Morris, Roberta Martin and Rosetta Tharpe, so as to better understand the theory, roots and evolution of gospel music. Their time together also consisted of regular rehearsals with the choirs at Antioch Baptist church, where Scruggs was able to apply the information she learned about gospel to her time playing electric bass with the choir.

Master Biography
Traditional gospel music has been a way of life, worship and artistry for Reverend Helen Turner-Thompson since age seven when she began accompanying junior church choirs and adults on radio broadcasts. Her exposure to gospel music was enhanced by the gospel musicians and composers that frequented her mother’s church supply store in Cleveland. Turner-Thompson has many years of experience directing and performing around the Cleveland area, including her choir’s performance at Reverend Shirley Caesar’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She continues to work with apprentices, helping to develop and sustain a community of gospel musicians in northeastern Ohio.

Apprentice Biography
Apprentice Afi-Odelia Scruggs, an experienced musician and music teacher in her own right, began her study of gospel at age 16. Scruggs earliest lessons came from a church pianist. Her exposure to gospel music prior to those lessons consisted of anthems, hymns and spirituals. Since her study began, Scruggs has performed in churches in the eastern United States and Ohio and has developed workshops on traditional gospel music for both sacred and secular groups. Scruggs also plays several instruments, though during her apprenticeship she played bass and accompanied the three choirs at Antioch Baptist, Reverend Turner-Thompson’s current musical home.

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