Rance Allen Group
The Rance Allen Group was the most visible gospel crossover artist of the 1970s, having taken their joyous, spine-chilling music from the R&B charts to concert halls alongside the biggest names in rock and R&B. Rance Allen, together with his brothers Tom and Steve—who collectively comprise The Rance Allen Group—were the first black gospel group to fuse rock, soul and jazz into their music. With sacred-secular musical fusion, chunky harmonies, lyrical messages of faith and fraternity, and Rance’s stratospheric falsetto, the Rance Allen Group are standout pioneers of contemporary gospel, revolutionizing the genre for more than 40 years.
Born as three of a dozen children entrusted to Thomas and Emma Pearl Allen in the paper mill city of Monroe, MI—Rance and his brothers—both of whom supply vocal harmonies—made their debut recording for the tiny Reflect label in 1969. It was the single “Let’s Get Together and Love,” and it was backed with “First Day in Heaven.” Two years later, the trio won a gospel talent contest in Detroit. One of the judges was veteran record promoter Dave Clark, who was so impressed with the brothers that he and group manager Toby Jackson booked a studio for the siblings to record. They needed less than two hours to cut an entire album. Stax bought the master and issued it under the title Rance Allen Group on the Gospel Truth label in 1972.
The album contained the track “Just My Imagination (Just My Salvation),” a reworking of the Barrett Strong/Norman Whitfield-penned 1971 Temptations hit “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” The group’s second Gospel Truth album, 1973’s Truth Is Where It’s At, led off with a gospel version of “There’s Gonna Be a Showdown,” the Archie Bell & The Drells hit written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Such experimentation had been encouraged by Allen’s pastor and grandfather.
The Rance Allen Group began showing up on Billboard’s R&B chart, first in 1973 with “I Got to Be Myself,” which hit #31, and then in 1975 with “Ain’t No Need of Crying,” written and co-produced by David Porter and issued on the Truth label. Subsequent R&B chart singles were the #100 “Truth Is Marching On” (1977 Capitol), the #24 “I Belong to You” (1979, Stax), the #41 “Smile” (1979 Stax), and the #32 “Miracle Worker” (1991 Bellmark).
After the demise of the original Stax company, Allen recorded one album for Capitol, Say My Friend. It was issued in 1977 under Rance’s name only and produced by brothers Larry and Alphonso “Fonce” Mizell. Stax was purchased by Fantasy Records in Berkeley, California, in 1977 and reactivated as a label. The group rejoined Stax the following year and made three new albums: Straight from the Heart (1978), Smile (1979)—both with producer Henry Cosby—and I Feel Like Going On (1980).
The group made no recordings between 1981 and 1983, when it signed with the powerful Christian record and book company Word, Inc., of Waco, Texas. The Allen brothers had three albums released on the firm’s Myrrh label, of which 1985’s “I Give Myself to You” was the most successful. Rance toured with several gospel musical theater productions in the late 1980s.
Al Bell, the same executive who’d signed the group to Stax in 1971 launched his own label 20 years later. It was called Bellmark, and they signed the Allens. Phenomenon, issued in 1991 and featuring the hit “Miracle Worker,” reached #33 on Billboard’s R&B album chart and also became their first album to top the magazine’s gospel chart. Curiously, it took Bellmark four years to release a follow-up album, You Make Me Wanna Dance (1995), which climbed to #7 on the gospel chart.
After another lengthy break from recording, the Rance Allen Group landed with Tyscot Records in 2002, a label based out Indianapolis, Indiana. The first CD for the label, All the Way (2002), contained the gospel radio hit “Do Your Will.” The Live Experience (2004) featured live renditions of such Allen favorites as “That Will Be Good Enough for Me,” “Ain’t No Need of Crying,” “I Belong to You,” “Miracle Worker,” and “Do Your Will,” as well as guest appearances by Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, and LaShun Pace. A third Tyscot CD, Closest Friend, was released in 2007.
The Rance Allen Group has performed in almost every major city in the United States and presently has thirteen albums to their credit, three Grammy nominations, four Stellar Award nominations and a Soul Train Music Award nomination. The Group has been honored with many other awards including being recipients of The McDonald’s Restaurant Corporation Golden Circle Lifetime Achievement Award for their outstanding contributions to gospel music and the Trailblazers of Gospel Music presented by publishing giant BMI in 2005. They received a the Bobby Jones Legend Award during the 2009 Stellar Awards and in November 1998, The Rance Allen Group was inducted into the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Allen Brothers and their respective wives and families all live in Toledo now. Steve C. Allen is married and a father of two. He is a physical therapist with the St. Vincent Medical Center and a licensed Elder in the Church of God in Christ. He is also the praise and worship leader, Trustee, and the church administrator at the New Bethel Church of God in Christ where his brother Bishop Rance Allen is the pastor. Thomas Esau Allen is retired from the State of Michigan after a 39-year tenure. Tom and his wife Joyce have been married for 43 years and have 4 children, 16 grandchildren and 1 great-grandson. Rance Lee Allen was ordained an Elder by the late Bishop John Seth Bailey in 1978 and subsequently served 6-1/2 years as Associate Pastor of Holiness Temple Church of God In Christ (COGIC) in Monroe, MI. In 1985. the late Presiding Bishop Gilbert Patterson founded New Bethel Church in Toledo, OH and installed Bishop Allen there as Pastor. In September 2011, was elevated to the office of Jurisdictional Prelate of Michigan Northwestern Harvest in Detroit. Bishop Rance Allen still pastors New Bethel COGIC where his wife, Ellen Marie Allen, is very active in supporting his ministry.
President Judith Christie McAllister and the International Music Department, Church Of God In Christ, are proud to salute these COGIC sons and trailblazers of the contemporary gospel sound — the legendary Rance Allen Group.