Great Gospel leader of GMWA and Northern California passes. Dr Helen James Stephens passed away peacefully in her sleep May 3, 2014. The Gospel community has indeed lost a jewel. Please keep her family, friends, and the Gospel Community lifted in prayer. Here is a history of her accomplishments.
Helen J. H. Stephens was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was educated in the public schools in New Orleans and obtained her degree of music from Dillard University of New Orleans, Louisiana. While attending Booker T. Washington High School, Helen played the piano for weekly assembly programs, sang in the school choir, performed in operettas, and was active in the school band. While in New Orleans, she sang with a choral group, “The Southland Spiritual Chanters”. Helen, being the aggressive and progressive woman formed her own group “The Ebenezer Echoes”. In addition to this, she played for several churches in the area.
After completing her degree at Dillard University in 1949, Helen married Arnold E. Stephens in 1950 and shortly thereafter moved to California in 1953. She initially played for the Solid Rock Baptist Church of Oakland. She also played at the Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, Berkeley California, and the Antioch Baptist Church of Oakland, California. Helen is now a member of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church under the leadership of Rev. Gordon Humphrey, Jr.
In 1956, Helen organized the “Stephens Singers”. In 1969, she organized the gospel group, “The Voices of Christ” of Berkeley, California with 23 members. By 1970, the choir had grown to 92 members strong. The choir has recorded eight albums and has received numerous awards. The choir is the Hall of Fame of the Bay Area Gospel Academy Awards presented by the late Dr. Justin S. Cummins and the G.L. Bedford Specials. Many outstanding music directors and gospel singers were trained under the direction of Helen Stephens.
Helen has many ‘firsts’ to her credit along with being the founder of the “Voices of Christ”. She also organized the Northern California Chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America and has remained as chapter representative. This involvement takes her to many gospel workshops throughout California and other states to teach and learn gospel music.
At the invitation of the California State College of Hayward, Helen introduced and incorporated gospel music into that institution’s curriculum and instructed there for six years. She is currently a teacher of gospel music at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California and formerly Dominican College of San Rafael, California.
In 1979, Helen became the director of the “The Lighthouse Singers of Marin”. The choir was formed from the Family Light School of Music and the Tamalpais Singers. Under Helen’s fine direction, they sing throughout the Bay Area, California and nationally. As an example of her influence, the Lighthouse Singers of Marin won an award at the Bay Area Gospel Academy Awards for the most promising choir of 1983. Helen and the Lighthouse Singers have completed two recordings, their first “See the Glorious Light” and the second “Lighthouse Sings Steven Roberts Music”. In addition to being one of the greatest directors around, Helen also sings beautifully.
In 1992, Helen was appointed to the National Board of Directors of the Gospel Music Workshop of America in Chicago, Illinois. She has made her mark in gospel music for more than 50 years. Helen was also appointed to and served on the Marin Arts Council in Marin County for two (one year) terms. In May 2004, the Bell Grove Theological Seminary awarded Helen with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Music Ministry in a ceremony in Oakland, CA.
Helen attributes her success in gospel with Northern Cal, Voices of Christ, the Lighthouse Singers, to her faith in God and the support of Arnold E. Stephens, her husband for 55 years. They have three children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Helen Stephens’ goal in life would be to spread the inspiration of gospel music and teachings for the education, spirit, and joy to the world.