Doris Akers

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Job 32-33; Acts 14

May 21, 1923, was the day Floyd and Pearl Akers welcomed their daughter Doris into the world. At the time of Doris’ birth, the family lived in Brookfield MO. She was one of ten children. Five years later the family moved to Kirksville MO.

She was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

Her affinity for music began to show almost immediately. By the time she was six-years-old, Doris had learned to play the piano by ear. By her tenth birthday, she had written her first song, “Keep the Fire Burning in Me.” During the 1930s she formed “Dot and the Swingsters with her siblings, Edward, Marian, and Donald.

Doris first learned to sing Gospel music in her church, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Kirksville MO. She moved to Los Angeles in 1945 where she joined The Sallie Martin Singers as a pianist and vocalist. As Doris toured with Martin and company, she was able to gain critical insight into the Gospel music business, particularly as she observed the collaboration between Martin and Professor Thomas Dorsey.

After two years with the Sallie Martin Singers, Akers left the group and started her own group. Almost immediately came the release of Akers first song, “I Want a Double Portion of God’s Love.”

While in Los Angeles, Doris began working as the director of the Sky Pilot Choir. The Sky Pilots were an integrated choir that saw work on television and radio. Some of these shows gave the choir nationwide exposure. The choir also did live shows and recordings.  Doris arranged much of the choir’s music, many songs using traditional African-American spirituals sung in original ways. s also featured on recordings, television shows, and radio broadcasts across the country. Her fresh, modern arrangements of traditional Negro spirituals drew large crowds from far and near and increased attendance at the church dramatically.

Meeting Dorothy Simmons and Hattie Hawkins in 1948, the three quickly formed the Simmons-Akers Trio. They released several recordings for different record companies including RCA Victor. She also worked with her two partners to ensure the original music written by the group, growing from their faith, would remain protected.

Akers recorded her first solo album called, “Sing Praises Unto The Lord” in 1947. It featured some of her early compositions.

Doris and her friend Mahalia Jackson worked together to write, “Lord, Don’t Move the Mountain.” The record sold over 1,000,000 copies. It later became a popular song with other Gospel artists.

In her book Stories Behind 50 Southern Gospel Favorites, author Lindsey Terry tells of her interview with Akers in the late 1980s.

“[S]he related to me that one Sunday morning in 1962 while directing the Sky Pilot Choir, she said to her singers, ‘You are not ready to go in.’ She didn’t believe they had prayed enough! They were accustomed to spending time with her in prayer before the service, asking God to bless their songs. She said, ‘I feel that prayer is more important than great voices.’ They had already prayed, but this particular morning she asked them to pray again, and they did so with renewed fervor.

“As they prayed, Doris began to wonder how she could stop this wonderful prayer meeting. She said, ‘I sent word to the pastor letting him know what was happening. He was waiting in the auditorium, wanting to start the service. Finally, I was compelled to say to the choir, We have to go. I hate to leave this room and I know you hate to leave, but you know we do have to go to the service. But there is such a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.'”

The phrase, “sweet, sweet spirit in this place” would not leave her alone. The next day Akers wrote the rest of the song, “There’s A Sweet, Sweet Spirit in This Place.” It became one of her most popular pieces.

In her later years, Doris moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where she served as Minister of Music at Grace Temple Deliverance Center. When she broke her ankle in 1994, the accident led to the discovery that Doris had spinal cancer. She died a year later.

Before she passed away, Akers was honored by the Smithsonian Institute as the foremost black gospel songwriter in the United States. After her death, she was inducted posthumously into both the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2001) and the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2011). Much of her work is still considered to be national treasures.

Doris Akers’ music is like that “sweet heavenly dove,” she wrote about in the 1960s in her great work, “Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” it has stayed with us. It has blessed the world.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved


Doris Akers, a gospel composer and vocalist


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