Madame Andrews passed away peacefully on Monday March 24th 2014 at the age of 81. She was a Gospel legend who made Colorado her home. We were lucky to have her with us as a vibrant member of our musical community. She shared the message of Gospel music through her own performances and through the KGNU show she created over three decades ago - The Gospel Chime Hour. The KGNU community of volunteers and listeners will deeply miss her radiant presence.
Madame Andrews and the Heavenly Echoes joined by the Zion Crusaders from an April 23, 1994 performance on the KGNU Kabaret.
Madame Andrews featured on piano performing with the Heavenly Echoes, Damian Stephfano is the featured vocalist. This recording is from a live broadcast from an unknown date in 1996.
Madame Andrews performing live following a broadcast from the KGNU Kabaret show. This recording is from an unknown date in October of 1996.
Madame Andrews and the Heavenly Echoes from a June 15, 1998 performance on the KGNU Kabaret.
Madame Andrews featured during a performance on the KGNU Kabaret (Archive from 5/2/11)
In December of 2011 Denver Post Columnist Tina Griego wrote the following feature article on Madame Andrews with the title 'In gospel's cadence, she rises and shines':
Her given name is Walter. After her daddy, Walter Andrews. "Oh, what was his middle name?" she says, but can't summon it. So many pieces of the past have been swallowed up and hidden away by her mind. Grasping for a memory no longer present frustrates her, but, for the most part, she is easy with it.
"I'm in my sixties, seventies, whatever. I'm up there," she'll say and then break into a honeyed laugh.
What she remembers and doesn't, well, like everything, that's up to God, Madame Andrews figures.
It was Bishop G.M. Wilson, pastor of City of Refuge Tabernacle, who decreed Walter Andrews would be known henceforth as Madame Andrews, the Gospel Queen of Denver. It was what God himself wished, Bishop Wilson said.
Madame Andrews accepted this mantle with some skepticism. She is a faithful servant of God, but sees no reason not to question him on occasion.
Madame Andrews was a fixture on radio here and in Boulder for at least 40 years, most of that at KGNU, where in 1984 she started hosting the Gospel Chime Hour on Sundays. She was a well-known gospel singer in her own right, performing with the City of Refuge Tabernacle's Heavenly Echoes, putting out an album in 2002. She left KGNU a few years ago, but sings regularly with the Gospel Voices of Boulder, which performed last week for the residents of the Broomfield Greens Senior Apartments.
The Madame Andrews I first meet has lost a lot of weight and strikes me as frail. She is gracious and funny and her recollections carry her over well-traveled ground, a memory loop that includes her parents teaching her to sing. "They could both sing. I mean, baby, they could tear a church up. They would hold my hand, daddy on one side, mama on the other and I'm just a little thing in the middle and my mama would say, 'Come on, gal, we have to sing this.' They fixed it so I could come in on harmony."
Madame Andrews has not had an easy life, but either she can't remember that or sees no reason to. Her parents died when she was a child and she was raised by her Aunt Sweet and Uncle Morris. Widowed twice, she has no children and no surviving relatives. Bishop Wilson, a powerful woman and teacher, took her in at various times over the years. About five years ago, Bishop Wilson's daughter and granddaughter took over primary care of Madame Andrews.
"She had her own place until then," says Bishop Wilson's daughter, Lady B.J. Stephfano. "She had been losing her memory for years, I think, but hid it. My mother first noticed. When we went to visit her, we saw she was writing herself notes. Her best times are when you get her in church and in front of a piano."
I can't see the woman before me belting out gospel, so what follows in that apartment building amazes me.
Choir director Ernest Hargett leads the group in a few songs. Madame Andrews refuses a chair and claps her hands, beaming. Hargett invites her to take the piano. She hits a few notes, trying out various keys and then just soars: "Crossed those troubled waters," she sings, voice powerful and then falling fast, "and I'm so glad."
It's one of her songs.
She performs three songs. She leaps to her feet and dances. She is transformed, filled with light and she later explains the spirit of God filled her, head to toe, connecting her to everyone in the room. Even if you don't believe this, there is no denying the moment is sacred. All moments of joy that come from the honoring and sharing of one's gifts are sacred. This is what it means to be fulfilled.
"It's amazing, isn't it?" says Ginger Perry, Madame Andrews' longtime friend and choir member. "She basically has no memory, but she shines."
Choir director Hargett says it's almost as if Madame Andrews' gospel music is "her last rope, her hope, the thing she hangs on to. It brings her back into reality."
The next morning, Madame Andrews will not remember her performance. She doesn't remember how the residents showered her with praise and gratitude. She sits at the piano in Perry's living room as Perry fills her in and Madame Andrews responds as she always does. She laughs and thanks the Lord. Then, she places her fingers on the piano keys and sings. Oh, how she sings.