Philadelphia's Willarene Ward, sister of Clara Ward and member of the famous Ward Singers, died in August at 91, which is why the five-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot Ward family house is for sale. The Ward Singers were one of the most influential and commercially popular gospel groups of the golden era, with lasting success from their beginnings in the 1940s through the 1970s. In his obituary of Willa Ward in the New York Times, Dennis Hevesi described the group's early momentum:
"With their dynamic surges and sudden octave-high leaps, the Wards and their evolving cast of singers, wearing rhinestone-studded choir gowns, would pack sports arenas and convention halls around the country." Hevesi noted Willa's "pure, note-bending voice," a quality which later got her backup gigs with Patti LaBelle and Chubby Checker, among others.
Willa left the family group in 1958, but throughout her lifetime kept forming other gospel groups. She also wrote a well-received autobiography, How I Got Over: Clara Ward and the World-Famous Ward Singers, which was called "a courageous and genuinely gracious book" by the Bloomsbury Review.
As for the house, it has five bedrooms, three bathrooms and there's no question it's in need of an update or 10. You can smell the dust just looking at the photos. But it seems a shame to think of simply as another out-of-date home in need of an emergency granite-countertop infusion. Philadelphia has an impressive gospel legacy. Museum, anyone?
[This is a recording of Willa Ward in 2009 singing "Amazing Grace at her piano at 4542 N. Broad Street.]
· 4542 N. Broad Street [Redfin]