Author: Sweet Sweet Spirit
“Her music was a special gift, and she gave God all the glory for it. It wasn’t her, it was God that put that gift into her possession.”
Rev. Willa Grant Battle, Founding Pastor of Grace Temple Deliverance Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Born in Brookfield, Missouri, on May 21, 1923, Doris Mae “Dot/Doe” Akers demonstrated a love for music and singing at a very young age. When she was only six, she taught herself to play the piano by ear; when she was ten, she composed her first song (“Keep the Fire Burning in Me”). When she turned 12, she organized a five-piece jazz band with her siblings; it was called “Dot Akers and Her Swingsters.” At 22, she moved to Los Angeles in order to expand her opportunities in Gospel music.
“A family member tells that ‘Doe’ could pick up an instrument and play it from memory. Brother Donald had acquired a trumpet and was taking lessons. During Donald’s practice at home ‘Doe’ took the trumpet and tried to figure out how the notes were made. It looked difficult. After retiring to bed, ‘Doe’ dreamed she could play Bud Green’s 1937 nugget ‘Once in a while.’ After the dream she leapt out of bed, picked up the trumpet and played the tune. The family was mesmerized. Her knack of playing and composing music without lesson or instruction was a true gift. ‘Doe’ just took all this for granted.” (Nations, “Doe & Dove” – The Doris Akers Singers Story, 2005)
Her opportunities exploded the moment she arrived in the big city! In 1945, she joined the Sallie Martin Singers as both a pianist and vocalist. A year later she formed her own singing group with Dorothy Vemell Simmons, called the Simmons-Akers Singers. In 1947, she published her first song with Martin & Morris publishing; it was entitled “I Want a Double Portion of God’s Love.” A year after that she formed her own music publishing company called the Aker Music House. Early on, Simmons and Akers published their music under a number of different record labels: Score, Superb, Super, Songs of the Cross, Imperial Records, RCA Victor and the label Specialty Records. One of the reasons for starting her own publishing company was to preserve some of her original religious compositions.
“The Simmons-Akers ensemble in its various combinations recorded several singles, including ‘He Delivered Me / Jesus Is the Name’ and ‘My Expectation / He’ll Never Let Go of My Hand’. Simmons and Akers, apparently in a transition of personnel, recorded solos and duets in 1954. One such single was ‘He’s Everywhere / I Found Something’, both songs written by Akers, with Akers overdubbing multiple voice parts. Another disc featured Dorothy Simmons singing ‘Meet Me in Glory Land,’ a song by Akers, and on the other side, Doris Akers sang ‘Lead Me, Guide Me,’ with the label indicating ‘Doris Akers singing all three parts.’” (www.hymnologyachive.com)
The group stayed together until 1958 when Akers was invited to develop and lead a 100-voice choir at the Sky Pilot Radio Church in Los Angeles, or as it was also known, the Sky Pilot Revival Center. The Center at that time was under the leadership of Dr. Aubrey C. Lee, affectionately called “The Sky Pilot” for his work in radio programming. Akers’ impact was eventually noticed and rewarded; the Sky Pilot Choir was the first in Los Angeles to integrate both black and white vocalists, earning Akers the beloved title of “Miss Gospel Music.” A year after taking over, she published her first album with the choir; in 1961 and 1962, she was voted by her peers in the recording business as the best gospel music composer.
1962 was a significant year for Akers in more ways than one. Over time she had begun the migration to a more “white” Christian audience, a move that became clearer with her affiliation with the white-owned Manna Music Company.
“When the Sky Pilot Choir’s Christian Faith album won Best Gospel Vocal Album in the trades in 1959, she became closely affiliated with the white-owned Manna Music Company who was able to distribute her work widely. Although she was noted for being one of the first musicians to bridge the gap between black and white gospel, there were those who thought that ‘Doe’ was steering black choral music along a path that lead away from its African American roots.” (Nations, “Doe & Dove” – The Doris Akers Singers Story, 2005)
The other news of note in 1962 was the composition of what many claim was her finest work: “Sweet Sweet Spirit.”
There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place,
And I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord;
There are sweet expressions on each face,
And I know they feel the presence of the Lord.
Refrain: Sweet Holy Spirit, Sweet heavenly Dove,
Stay right here with us, filling us with Your love.
And for these blessings we lift our hearts in praise;
Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived,
When we shall leave this place.
There are blessings you cannot receive
Till you know Him in His fullness and believe;
You’re the one to profit when you say,
“I am going to walk with Jesus all the way.”
If you say He saved you from your sin,
Now you’re weak, you’re bound and cannot enter in,
You can make it right if you will yield,
You’ll enjoy the Holy Spirit that we feel.
“One Sunday morning, in 1962, she said to her choir, ‘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 going into the church service … They had already prayed, but this particular morning she asked them to pray again, and they did so with renewed fervor. As they continued to pray, Doris began to wonder how she could stop this wonderful prayer meeting. She even sent word to the pastor about what was happening. Finally, she 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 song started ‘singing’ to me. I wanted to write it down but couldn’t. I thought the song would be gone after the service. Following the dismissal of the service I went home. The next morning, to my surprise, I heard the song again, so I went to the piano and began to write, ‘There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place.’” (www.staugustine.com)
Doris Mae “Dot/Doe” Akers finished her service to the Lord in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on July 26, 1995. At the time of her death, she was serving as Minister of Music at Grace Temple Deliverance Center. Ten months earlier she had discovered that she had spinal cancer when visiting the doctor for a broken ankle. Akers was 72 years young and is buried in Lakewood Cemetery in the heart of Minneapolis.
The Smithsonian Institute called her a “national treasure” and “the foremost black gospel songwriter in the United States.” She was a recording artist, music arranger, choir director, and songwriter; in 2001, she was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. Ten years later, she was also inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
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