RAYMOND MYLES / “Heaven Is The Place I Want To Be”


Raymond Myles is dead. He was murdered during a car jacking. It was a terrible blow to the contemporary New Orleans gospel scene, a scene that was, if you can get to this, even stronger than the New Orleans rap scene, albeit not as well known nationally and internationally. I say stronger because there were many more people singing gospel in New Orleans than doing rap (even counting those who did both).

Raymond was one of the most flamboyant as well as one of the most talented of New Orleans musician.  Physically rotund, he was fashion conscious with a vengeance. He sported a mane of curly hair which looked to be a cross between well-kept jheri curls and a Goldilocks perm. Plus, he flashed gold. Personality-wise he had some Little Richard in him. My man could be wild, as the second medley cut demonstrates when he invites the church congregation to get their groove on with Jesus instead of going out to the clubs. “Get up, get up” he cajoles, urging them to slide and dip and do whatever else they want to do, and, of course, the band is appropriately funky. This is archetypical New Orleans gospel.

Those who think this a bit unseemly for gospel music should remember that a similar criticism was leveled at Mahalia Jackson when she started out with Thomas Dorsey before she became celebrated as the world’s greatest gospel singer. Indeed in the thirties, they kicked Mahalia out of some churches, saying she was mixing the devil’s music with Jesus’ songs. Her reply was “that’s the way we sing it” in New Orleans. And guess what? As Raymond so ably demonstrates, they continued singing it that way, long after Mahalia was gone.

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As a vocalist Raymond reminds me of a cross between Rance Allen and D.J. Rogers. As a musical director he was superb, and though I am not a die-hard fan of gospel music, I loved to hear his group The RAMS (i.e. The Raymond Anthony Myles Singers). When they got amped up, they could out blow the Basie band while singing with the finesse of Duke Ellington’s Orchestra at its finest. Though there are a double handful of New Orleans gospel performers whom I respect to the fullest, to me and to many others on the scene, Raymond Myles was the pinnacle of New Orleans gospel.

Unfortunately, New Orleans is not just iconic in music. Raymond’s death is also archetypical New Orleans. As celebrated as the music is, New Orleans was also noted for crime, especially black-on-black murder. Didn’t no Black body who lived in New Orleans not know about how violent our beloved city was. (As is typical of the New Orleans dialect, we are known for double and triple negatives, e.g. “you know he ain’t never liked to do nothing like that,” etc. etc.)

Although Big Easy was as sweet as sweet comes, on the crime tip, Big Easy wasn’t nothing nice. And as is the case in 26 other major metropolitan areas with significant densities of Black folk, poor Blacks overwhelmingly are both the murderers and the murderees.

Plus, the main forces that are supposed to be fighting crime in New Orleans, the NOPD, well, far from being the solution, the po-po were a major part of the problem. Drug running, extortion, murder, prostitution, the NOPD was not just accused of it all, a number of them have been convicted in court of said activities. And though the majority of the NOPD were stalwarts attempting to deal as best they could with what is essentially a structural social problem, the depth and deadliness of the crime in New Orleans led to social tensions and open antagonism between the people most in need of protection and those whose job description was to protect and serve.

It was no surprise to me that as the Katrina disaster unfolded, some of the police deserted and others of the police were literally under siege. Those scenes of the police taking incoming fire at night, that was really New Orleans. America fools itself if we think this extraordinary spectacle of pitched battles between policeman and a socalled “handful of armed thugs” could not take place in other major cities.

Since tourism was the main local economy—petroleum and shipping were the other two major areas of New Orleans commerce, but neither of those two had either a local base or employed a large percentage of the local New Orleans population, thus for poor people petro-dollars and shipping-dollars were non-existant. All of this unceasing, systematic exploitation led to a fatalism among the poor that manifested itself either as an embrace of crime preying mainly on each other or an exaggerated reliance on other world solutions, hence the proliferation of churches from small storefronts to mega-congregations of virtual religious fiefdoms, all of which employed the musical talents of its parishioners. Gospel offered release and relief, encouraged shouting to express deep hurts and frustrations, and promised eternal salvation on the other side.

Listen to the lyrics of Raymond’s title song, “Heaven Is The Place I Want To Be.” He could not be more clear (or more ironically prophetic) as he sings about wanting to get away from the “car jackings” and the “murders,” not by going to other cities but by going to heaven. Raymond knew he was at risk of becoming a statistic and found solace in his religious beliefs.

To the best of my knowledge, the police never found out who murdered Raymond Myles although all kinds of rumors and innuendoes swirled through the community ranging from a simple car jacking gone bad to a lover’s quarrel gone bad—whatever the truth, it was bad. No one expected the police to find the killer. In general, they seldom find out who murders someone Black, and in a couple of those too-few cases where they have apprehended the killers, the criminal justice system has proven to be inept at protecting witnesses. People who were scheduled to testify routinely were threatened and scared into silence, sometimes they were murdered, and even, in one well known case, a witness was killed by a policeman protecting a cabal of crooked cops.

Moreover, it had become a truism among investigating police, that street justice would find the killers and there would be a retaliation within weeks if not days of the first murder, so why bother investigating. I believe this same attitude permeated all aspects of New Orleans’ social organization, thus, there could be a “serious” discussion about evacuation and no discussion about providing transportation when it was well known that at least 100,000 of the residents had no access to anything other than public transportation.

Whereas the non-poor could ignore the extreme social dysfunction by retreating to the relative safety of homes in sequestered areas of the city or, more often, to homes in the suburbs surrounding the city, all of which were well-protected by private security forces and elaborate alarm systems, the black and poor living in densely packed urban pockets of poverty had no such options. The Black and poor could not afford to live in safety, they also knew that the price of ignoring street realities was extremely steep.

Listen to the first "Medley" and how Raymond’s cautions the women to stay near to their purses, intimating that a fellow church member, under the guise of helping you, just might be trying to sneak you, to thief you. Raymond does it in a humorous way, but the implications are positively chilling—you virtually can not trust anyone. There is no freedom in the ghetto. Everything costs, every one is at risk.

I maintain if you want to know why New Orleans music was so moving, you have to consider this crucible of vicious economic exploitation and vicious inner-city crime, this rock and hard place. This was the social laboratory that produced a deeply moving music precisely because under girding the music were life and death issues.

As we listen to Raymond Myles, perhaps we should ask ourselves, at what social cost comes the terrible beauty of music from New Orleans?

Enjoy the Raymond Myles cuts, remember him as among the best of New Orleans, but please don’t let the beauty make you oblivious to the ugliness. New Orleans was a very, very complex city. Living poor and Black in New Orleans-—regardless of how talented you were—could literally cost you your life. That was the reality, long before Katrina blew by, long, long before the levee broke and the water flowed.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

Click here to purchase Heaven Is The Place   

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 11th, 2005 at 12:02 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


17 Responses to “RAYMOND MYLES / “Heaven Is The Place I Want To Be””

Rudy Says:
September 13th, 2005 at 1:14 pm

Let me be the first to say I like gospel. I was raised on gospel music. It is just as much a part of me as the rhythm of my heart. It is not something that I can get away from. Mahalia’s voice and passion is my mother’s breast, my living in the world. You see in a southern Virginia black church that was the music and Mahalia was the queen. So New Orleans gospel is all mixed up with the blues and the people and the freedoms of jazz. So New Orleans ain’t just in New Orleans. It became an American music.

Now, let me say, I do not listen to a lot of gospel these days. I don’t care that much about the sophistication and the jazz arrangements of popular gospel. Well I still listen to James Brown. But he know that the music, the drum got to be true, how it really be.

When I saw him in B’more on Pennsylvania Avenue at the Royal Theater, two times in one day — a matinee and the following 8 o’clock show, it was then I understood what the black preacher in that black church with a choir behind him, what he was doing, in backwoods VA. I saw perfection in “Please, Please, Please.” A spirit man, an artist, an actor, man of the people.

But that was the surface reality of the black church. The real black occurred during summer revival, which lasted five nights, beginning Sunday with homecoming, when your folk come from scattered places. They come home to thank the Lord for his blessings with their love ones, with their peoples.

Well, that’s the way it was done at the country Baptist churches–the most independent of black churches. These churches emphasized community. These are a new people, a constantly renewing kind of people. Their faith is caught up in their faith in the Lord.

Now when I was growing up there was no hanging image of Christ. Of course, the fans and some of the Sunday school material came from outside of the community with the “classic” image of Christ made commercially popular in the 50s. The true Christ came alive in the pulpit–in the person of the preacher. Ours was Reverend General Ruffin. black and stocky like he from Ghana, a shiny chocolate, a beautiful set of teeth and about as serious a being as a black boy ever feels from afar.

He commanded the elements. He had powers to evoke the spirit and make it manifest itself in his person. New Orleans music retains that element. Let us say it’s that African thing, that ancient man thing of possession by the Spirit, by Being itself. Well, pop gospel. gets fancy, cute, sophisticated. And so the gospel this brother does is different than all that. This gospel makes us special.

What is that us? Maybe its tribal. It sure ain’t upward mobile, trying to fit in where you can get in by any deceptive means at hand. That ain’t what New Orleans is all about. That’s why as a place, as a living thing, a little experiment, it reminds us about who we are and what we be. What is our promise and what is our gift to America.

Now, I ain’t talking about these million-dollar preachers we got now. Baptists are famous for keeping preachers on the move. Because back then churches were communities, families of achievement and all kinds and levels, and we are all together, as one, worlds with their own beginning, ties, memories, working together, dying together. And if a preacher couldn’t truly bring the spirit to sustain that community then he got the boot. He is not the One. And black folks are always on the outlook for the One.

During revival, before there was any preaching, the congregation itself takes over the service. Anyone can raise a song, and the congregation would urge them on, responding, chanting his words out and if it’s one of those spirited surging songs, they be moving their feet, and they be swinging it, as natural and as steady as a day’s work. Anyone can get up and speak, either to praise God or mock bad behavior, and there would be amens.

This vigorous congregation style is the true black church. It is the black church at its most democratic, at its most tribal, that is, with its emphasis on community and compassion and responsibility.

In so much as the preacher, or a singer and a choir, can evoke that and make it manifest itself in our hearts and souls, he/she is one of us. New Orleans has this effect one me, it refreshes, renews. That’s what this brother’s singing and choir do, especially in the I’m Gonna Shout About It and the one about Job and his faith.

He reminds me also of C.L. Franklin, who had much more going on. Still I like what he does. Good choice. I know what it is to miss New Orleans.


Djenra Says:
September 15th, 2005 at 1:11 pm

Kalamu;

I was raised a Baptist – upon adulthood I moved on into spiritual technologies such as meditation, chanting mantras and yoga but still inside of me, I am what my mama put into me, what Grace Baptist Church presented to me on Sunday and in Wednesday afternoon Bible School. All the Sunday teas, the travel for fellowship with other area churches, the many choirs I heard and sang with are precious memories deep inside me.

Raymond Myles has the silver spoon that can reach down & stir up the bottom layers of my Hoodoo soul. He makes me remember the first way I learned to sound AUM which was as amen…

Loved his -Heaven is the Place… . I know he is enjoying being back Home!!! Thanks for this selection and all the really great heritage music you present on this site,

Namaste
Djenra


Bernie Strickling Says:
April 7th, 2006 at 12:07 pm

I just would like to that I love gosple. MY self and raymond have the same pastor “Rev.Anderw Dabrey JR” from Fair Veiw Bapsit chuch


Carmen Says:
July 23rd, 2006 at 4:17 pm

Hello. I am the Beloved and only daughter oh Raymond A Myles. And to give you all a little bit of information about the situation, his killer tuned himself in being the fact that we went to elementary school together and his girldfriends’ sister used to be my best friend in school and when she learned of what the guy had did and whom he had killed, she told him he must turn himself in because he is my father. So he did and is now serving a life sentence for my fathers’ death. On another note, I am following in my dads’ footsteps and carrying on his legacy out here in California. After Katrina I relocated here to just get away form that crowd that was lead to Houston Texas. I have put together my own choir and hopefully in the future we will be able to go and perform in New Orleans preferrably on my fathers holiday. Anyways, my dad and myself did not have the relationship that God would have wanted us to have, but at least I tried and I know God understands. But what he left behind is a wounded daughter, lonely in this big, cruel world trying with everything within me to carry on this legacy the he and my grandmother(Christina Myles) both left behind. The road is narrow and hard, but with the prayers of myself and hopefully others, in the end the victory will be definatly won and ours!!!!!! Feel free to contact me at (408) 417-5458 for and questions or comments and God Bless You All!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Shawndrika Reed Says:
January 19th, 2007 at 10:41 am

Hello,
Just want to share that your fathers music still to this day play a big part in the spiritual movement of many. His music allow the spirit to move within. May God continue to bless you in all of your endeavors. Thank God for helping capturing Raymond’s murderer.


Pastor Thomas H. Lewis, Jr. Says:
August 17th, 2007 at 12:49 pm

I am a native of Jackson, Louisiana (East Feliciana Parish). I met Raymond at a young age. His mother and her twin sang with the Corinthian # 2 Baptist Church of New Orleans. Each year this church would return to Wilson, Louisiana (St. Paul # 1 MBC) to celebrate Homecoming Services. I cannot remember the year, but Raymond accompanied the choir as pianist. He truly blessed our hearts.

My heart was truly saddened when I heard of his untimely death. However, I remembered the words to the song Corinthian’s choir opened up with: :We’re marching to Zion – beautiful, beautiful Zion. We’re marching up to Zion – that beautiful city of God.” I found great consolation knowing Raymond is now in the grandstands of eternity encouraging us to strive to reach that New Jerusalem.

To his daughter: Walk in the Light. Jesus loves you and so do we.

Pastor Thomas H. Lewis, Jr.


louis adams Says:
May 26th, 2008 at 3:02 am

Raymond was my music teacher at abramson high…I still miss him to this very day.


Ann Says:
August 2nd, 2008 at 1:36 am

Raymond Myles was not only my choir director aka RAMS he was a good friend whoI sadly miss to this day. When I heard the news of his untimely death it was 4 am in the morning I got the news from another choir member. Raymond was a good person who was concern about people, and he loved to teach people how to sing. He also was concern about the young black on black crime in the city of New Orleans, and he would often mention it in the schools, or whereever he was. He is gone but not forgotten, and his music was remarkable.
There will never be another man like him.


Brett Says:
September 9th, 2008 at 9:34 pm

I was wandering around Jazzfest one Sunday and passed by the Gospel tent. Raymond was on stage. I walked in. That was all it took.

Raymond, the world rarely has been home to men as special as you. The blend of faith, music, and love that beamed out of you every second of your existence was enough to blow the poison out of anyone.

I just cannot fathom why your magic wasn’t enough to save you that night. Life is not fair. I cannot hear your name without feeling the loss that everyone suffers because you are no longer here.

Your music lives on and serves as an eternal reminder of the joy that you shared with us when we were blessed enough to be near you.


ANTHONY Says:
December 12th, 2008 at 10:08 pm

I WAS IN A GROUP CALLED THE SAVE THE YOUTH CONCERT CHOIR . EVERY YEAR WE WOULD HAVE A MIDNIGHT SPECIAL AT A CHURCH , AND ALWAYS RAYMOND MYLES AND THE PENTECOST BAPTIST CHURCH WAS THE SPECIAL GUEST. RAYMOND WOULD COME SING AND PLAY THAT ORGAN LIKE WE HAD NEVER HEARD BEFORE. OFTEN HE WOULD COME WITHOUT PAY, BECAUSE HE KNEW THAT HIS MUSIC ALWAYS HELPED SOME YOUNG PERSON TO FIND GOD. HE USED TO ALWAYS “IF YOU CAN DANCE IN THE CLUBS AT MIDNIGHT , YOU CAN SHOUT FOR JESUS AT MIDNIGHT, BECAUSE GOD MOVES AT MIDNIGHT”. RAYMOND THE SAVE THE YOUTH CONCERT CHOIR REALLY MISSES YOU .


Nicole Says:
December 18th, 2008 at 2:48 am

I knew Raymond from John McDonogh Sr High School. He taught me and my Senior Class how to “Sang” our Senior Class Song. He was the best friend of our 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Patricia McGuire Hill. He is missed; He is loved; He is Blessed by GOD above!!!!

He is an Honorary Trojan Faculty Member (Lifetime Honorary Faculty Member)…

My all time favorite Raymond Anthony Myles song is “I go to the Rock”


Bruno Says:
May 24th, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Raymond Myles’ banner is always in the Gospel Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. With good reason. He could put on a show, and he loved his Mamma.

I first saw his show there in 1991. I still remember it vividly as one of the best performances ever at the JazzFest. The choir warmed the crowd up with a song or two. Then Raymond appeared. He was in a dandy suit that some might misconstrue as inappropriate for such a full bodied guy. Lots of gold jewelry too. He belted out a tune that immediately had the crowd up on their feet.

Then he posed for pictures, smiling and rambling. He said something like “Ladies, you better take those pictures now, because I won’t look this good during the show, I’m gonna sweat a little for Jesus.” And he sure hammed it up for those cameras. Wish I had a shot.

the RAMS were a really talented choir on their own, and Raymond was proud to let them shine. Time after time, he passed the microphone to a talented singer. Then he introduced his sweet Mamma. She came out and did a beautiful solo. Man, he was good to his Mamma.

He vaguely acknowledged the gaggle of shirtless dudes dancing to the left of the stage, commenting that they better calm down because they were upstaging him. I am proud to say that I was on the fringe of that crowd. Church ain’t like this in Alabama.

Just when I thought he had taken the crowd’s energy as high as possible, he just hands the microphone to a teenaged girl in the 3rd row or so, she belts out a gospel version of C+C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now,” her first line was “Everybody Praise Him,” followed by that distinctive instrumental hook in the original song. Martha Was h ain’t got nuthin’ on her. I thought, I hoped, the entire crowd would be sucked out of the top of the tent right into into a very musical heaven.

The only performer who has come close to Raymond Myles performance, in my humble opinion, was this year’s performance by Rance Allen.


Lynn Says:
January 20th, 2011 at 9:32 am

I was saddened by the loss of Raymond Myles. I was stationed in NOLA (late 80s), I remember Raymond as a singer and musician at Greater St. Stephen BC. In the ’99, John P Kee did a concert at the church and acknowledged the loss of Raymond and wanted to show his respect to Raymond’s daughter. Carmen, as I grow older I realize how much I don’t know God and his wonderous! He amazes me with His Grace and Love. I love “youtube” it allows me to listen to your father sing “Jesus the Baddest Man in Town” while I work. I’m rocking and swaying at my desk.


Just Like John Says:
February 8th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I was a teenager when our Mass Choir had an invitation to travel ‎to New Orleans to sing for a church whose name escapes me ‎now. In fact, the actual church does not leave an impression ‎now at all. I can’t remember if it had or did not have carpet ‎‎(although if I pay attention to the details that surround my ‎memory lane journey today, I don’t think it did). I don’t even recall ‎whether or not it had stained glass windows or a pipe organ (and ‎it probably did not have those things either). But I do remember ‎a very tall, rather large gentleman with what appeared to be ‎either a Jerri curl, or a perm of some sort that was halfway ‎hanging in his face, while the other portion was gathered back to ‎form a long ponytail. This figure was larger than life, and I ‎remember wondering, “who in the world is that” as a blind lady in ‎whom I later learned was Evangelist Carole Thomas, introduced ‎him simply as “The Maestro.” It was then that this man in a ‎purple suit and lots of gold ornamentation sat down at the ‎keyboard and flirted with the cords a while before belting out—“
I’ve never been to Paris in the spring or the fall

I’ve never been to India to see the Tajo Mahan

I’ve never been to Switzerland to see the winter games play ‎
But then the verse that says:

‎“I’ve never been to New Orleans on a Mardi Gras day”‎

‎ Was replaced by his own version…being a native of New ‎Orleans—‎

I’ve never been to London on a foggy day

Never been to hear to a ghandala play

ALL I WANT TO DO IS MAKE IT TO HEAVEN

THAT WILL BE GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME

CAUSE HEAVEN IS THE PLACE WHERE I WANT TO BE—

And we swayed and rocked, and were amazed. Then he said, “I ‎feel like dancing a lil’ while now children” and began to thump out ‎the basic chord progressions that I can now immediately ‎recognize as being the opening to “Walk in Jerusalem” and boy ‎did we dance. “We HAD to dance, we felt like dancing” and we ‎imagined ourselves “being ready” for when we would be able to ‎see the “city that John saw.” ‎
My father leaned over and whispered to me, THAT was Raymond ‎Miles and I knew then that I would never forget him.‎

Years later, while attending Xavier University we were told that ‎we would have a special guest for our gospel music concert, and ‎in walks “The Maestro” again. I leaned over and told my friends, ‎get ready, he’s about to “tear it up.” He did INDEED tear it up ‎and left us dancing, again. That time, I was able to walk up to ‎him, shake his hand and introduce myself and he casually ‎responded, “Hello there.” ‎
Years later I met and sang with Charlene, a powerful soprano, ‎that had a smile that was as sweet as Loretta’s famous pralines ‎in the French Market, was wowed by a little girl named ‎YessaNessa who was able to do runs that would easily stand up ‎to Kim Burrell. I was even getting my hair done by a fellow class ‎mate who was also studying music at the time, and she allowed ‎me to view a concert from…yup, the RAMS. Later, I also met ‎several students that all had one thing in common, and that ‎was…Raymond Miles.‎
One day I overheard the news reporter say that Raymond Miles ‎had been shot, later to find out that he died. Sitting in Greater St. ‎Stephen, and I do believe it to have been the same service the ‎writer that posted before me attended, John P. Kee came in the ‎city to give tribute to a man that was larger than life, and whose ‎gift continues to wow us. ‎
Trouble, young budding gospel music artist, scandal, choirs ‎wearing up do’s and sequined gowns, controversy, unsung ‎musical expertise, misunderstandings, a director who could make ‎ANYTHING SAAAAAAANG, rumors, flashy clothes, packed out ‎churches, small town gossip, The House of Blues, international ‎acclaim, and Jazz and Heritage festival stages under a hot New ‎Orleans summer sun are what I think of whenever the name ‎Raymond Miles floats through the air like the faint sound of jazz I ‎once heard while passing through the French Quarter. I’m ‎grateful.‎


Alesia Adams Says:
April 24th, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Raymond, I will always love you and always have felt that you were part of our family, I miss you so much.

Your Baby Girl, or as you call me Lesh
Alesia Adams and Family


dee black Says:
March 11th, 2012 at 10:27 am

I love the song heaven is the place because one day we all are going to met up their beyond those beautiful clouds with the lord in save Jesus Christ one of these old days.
Love Dee Black


T. Taylor Says:
October 21st, 2013 at 2:22 am

Raymond Myles was also my teacher at Abramson. Before that, he knew my mom from the St. Bernard Projects. She said he and Ms. Chris use to try and take me from her. lol… but he was killed it felt as if a part of me died with him. I will forever miss him.


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