Rev. Maceo Woods: How An Unsung Artist’s Music Lives On

I heard the news that an unsung music artist, a man of faith and Chicago trailblazer Rev. Maceo Woods passed this weekend.

He was born Maceo Len Woods on April 23, 1932 in Mississippi before relocating to the Morgan Park area of Chicago.

His career started as an organist for Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Chicago and while at the church launched a choir called the Maceo Woods Male Chorus.

He then formed the Maceo Woods Singers in 1952 and a year later released their first album on Apollo Records, “Witness.” The record was successful and jump-started his career.

Woods then recorded a version of “Amazing Grace” for the Vee Jay Records’ house band that went on to more than 200,000 in its first year. His version would become the best-selling gospel instrumental record of all time.

The “Amazing Grace” success then created more demand for the Maceo Woods Singers and he went on to host live spiritual events called Gospel Supreme.

After that, Woods would go on to release nearly 20 albums on labels like Tyscot, Savoy, Stax, Arista and Volt. His 1970 release, “Hello Sunshine,” spawned a single by the same name that was my introduction to the music of Woods nearly 45-years after its release.

LISTEN to Rev. Maceo Woods perform “Hello Sunshine” for it’s 50th Anniversary

Sometime in the mid-2000’s Derrick Lee, the music director for BET’s former long-running show “Bobby Jones Gospel,” came up with an arrangement of the song “Hello Sunshine” for Dr. Bobby Jones and the Nashville Super Choir.

Rev. Maceo Woods

Lee arrangement was funky and had a great drive at the end. Regina McCrary of The McCrary Sisters sang lead on that song with power and might!

I became obsessed with “Hello Sunshine” that day. And it pains me still that there’s no version of the Nashville Super Choir singing it on YouTube or anywhere online.

Each season when Dr. Jones would come to DC for two weeks to tape his series, I would beg Derrick to put that song in the lineup. The never did because Dr. Jones wasn’t a fan of the arrangement of “Hello Sunshine.” The Nashville Super Choir never sang it again.

I later learned that “The Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin also released a version of this song in 1968 on her “Aretha Now” album on Atlantic Records. It was interesting to me that her version proceeded Rev. Woods’ own version, but she certainly did it justice.

Rev. Maceo Woods

In 2014, former Nashville Super Choir member turned breakout finalist from “The Voice” Kyla Jade did sing it! Jade was looking for an idea for a single and asked for my thoughts. I suggested “Hello Sunshine.” She went and recorded it and Dr. Jones’ music director Lee actually produced it. Her fresh interpretation honors the Aretha arrangement and is brilliant in its own right.

So I share this post today to celebrate the memory of Rev. Maceo Woods. And I also share this to show the impact of music on our lives.

A song I heard one time live has impacted me for more than a decade and introduced me to an unsung music great that I had never heard of. That’s what music should do!

LISTEN to Aretha Franklin’s version of “Hello Sunshine.”


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