2020 marks the 30th year since the voice of a legend to be was silenced, Rev. Paul Jones was found dead in his Houston home. Jones’ attention-grabbing voice moved crowds in a similar way of artists like Sam Cooke, Al Green and other powerful soul singers. His voiced towered over others to the point that he couldn’t contain the emotion, just as in this DFW Mass Choir video where he performed I Will Say Yes Lord in a stage-stealing performance.
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He was born in 1960 and graduated from Sam Houston High School in Houston, TX. Jones was called to ministry at age 16, then in 1981 he founded Greater New Grove Baptist Church and settled at E. Houston Road where it still is today. As pastor, he would broadcast services Sundays on KWWJ 1360 AM, taking his voice into homes across the city.
His talent had come of age. He recorded his first live album at Brentwood Baptist Church, which included standouts Wounded and Don’t Want No Rocks. Accompanied by Leon Lewis on the organ, he garnered worldwide attention with the fiery I Won’t Complain. Eventhough the song wasn’t original like others on the recording, as it was a take-off on the country gospel song I Can’t Complain, had been recorded by Chicago’s Elder James Lenox in 1982 and featured on the O’Neal Twins’ He’s Been Good to Me in 1984, there was something about Jones’ take that touched the spirits of those who listened. Make no mistake, Jones’ timing and soul are the essence of the version that has become popularized and performed by Karen Clark Sheard, Deborah Cox, Stevie Wonder and others.
His voice was reminiscent of popular R&B singers that became popular during the 90s such as K-Ci Haley and others that could plead with the crowd until they go into convulsions. Even other Houston greats such as Pastor Leo Daniels influences in his voice, as heard in his Put Down Your Whiskey Bottle sermon.
As the single began taking steam, he toured the country singing and preaching. Just as with Rev. Leo Daniels, his sermons were recorded and released to accompany his live recording.
I Won’t Complain – Joy Tabernacle
I Won’t Complain – Texas City (1989)
He gave his all during one of his last performances at Christian Hope Baptist Church at the second Sunday night musical with gospel legend Carl Preacher on the organ. No one knew that only a week later he’d be gone. Tragedy was looming.
The Houston Chronicle lays out what happened, according to prosecutor Joe Roach:
November 18, 1990 11:30pm-12:00am Rev. Jones was spotted by a witness close to midnight driving someone near Greenspoint in Houston.November 19, 1990 around 12:00am Two males (Alfonso Graham and one teen) arrived at Jones’ fashionable two-story, brick house in the 6300 block of Wimbledon Villa in far northwest Harris County in a stolen car. They knocked, forced their way in and gained control over Rev. Jones, leaving him lifeless. Clothing, jewelry and a 1988 Jaguar belonging to him were stolen. The teen departed in the other stolen car while Graham left in Jones’.November 19, 1990 8:45am Rev. Jones was found by friends who had stopped by to visit. The home’s front window was broken and the blinds were bent and twisted. Rooms were also in disarray, indicating a tussle or ransacking. His car was found nearby over an hour before at 7:00am and portions of it were smeared with Vaseline to eliminate fingerprints.November 21, 1990 Police release a sketch of a person of interest, black male, light complexion, tall, fairly long curly hair and a light beard who was riding in Jones’ Jaguar on November 18.November 28, 1990 Two males, one a 14-year-old boy, were stopped in Galveston County by the police for traveling 112 mph in a 55-mph zone. Police identify the adult as Anthony Graham, who was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm (not the one used at the crime scene). May 29, 1992 The first trial ended in a mistrial when a juror held a discussion with the police officer who discovered Jones’ body. Police also determine that Graham knew Jones. A bloody fingerprint found near Jones did not match Graham nor his 16-year-old co-defendant. Defense attorney Connie Williams Williams testified that the defense believes the print is from the real killer and that the co-defendant plotted against Graham because of his previous criminal record.December 8, 1993 24-year-old Alfonso Graham pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years for aggravated robbery. Jennings stated, “This was a horrible crime, and the defendant deserved the death sentence.”…”But given the evidence, this was a very good sentence. He will do some time and not just get out in a few months.”
The Rev. Milton Biggham, executive director of Savoy Records, told Houston Chronicle that he was days from signing Jones to a record contract and planned to release his album nationally.
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His death impacted the nation greatly with him being such a young talent. Brother, Don Jones, became an officer to battle crime and have an impact on youth. In a Houston Chronicle profile decades later, he said, “This adult influenced this teenager to do such a heinous crime, so my goal was to get in a position where I can be that person that can be a more positive influence.”
V. Michael McKay’s He Did It was released in 1991 with his lead vocals on the Gospel Music Workshop of America’s live recording in DC. He also received a Stellar Award nomination for best traditional gospel song for I Won’t Complain that same year.
His legacy has lived on, even launching the career of other artists with his hit years later. Many can remember Kelontae Gavin carefully belting the song in the viral lunchroom video that led him to become one of gospel music’s rising stars. Since his death, various versions of his work has been released, including in 2010, Pure Platinum re-released the I Won’t Complain album to assist with restoring Haiti earthquake victims. It has also been licensed as late as 2019 for use in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Funeral film.
Paul Jones is undoubtedly one of the greatest gospel voices of all time. To celebrate his life, les-grizzlys-catalans.org, reactivated his memorial website where his legacy can live on for those searching about his family and impact on the Houston gospel community.