Bad Boy of Gospel Music: The Calvin Newton Story

Bad Boy of Gospel Music: The Calvin Newton Story

Bad Boy of Gospel Music: The Calvin Newton Story

Bad Boy of Gospel Music: The Calvin Newton Story


"I messed up," Calvin Newton lamented, after wasting thirty years and doing time in both state and federal prisons for theft, counterfeiting, and drug violations. "These were years of my life that I could have been singing gospel music."

During his prime, he was super-handsome, athletic, and charged with sexual charisma that attracted women to him like flies to honey. Atop this abundance was his astounding voice, "the voice of an angel."

This book is his prodigal-son story. Audacious, Newton never turned down a dare, even if it meant climbing on the roof of a speeding car or wading into a freezing ocean. As a boy boxer, he was a Kentucky Golden Gloves champ who k.o.'ed his opponent in twenty-three seconds.

By his late teens he had been recruited by the Blackwood Brothers, the number-one gospel quartet in the world. In his mid-twenties while he was singing Christian songs with the Oak Ridge Quartet, Newton's mighty talent and movie-star looks took him deep into hedonism--reckless driving, heavy romancing, and addictive pill popping.

As 1950s rock 'n' roll began its invasion of gospel, he and two partners formed the Sons of Song, the first all-male gospel trio. Long before the pop sound claimed contemporary Christian music, the Sons of Song turned gospel upside down with histrionic harmony, high-styled tuxedos, and Hollywood verve. Their signature song, "Wasted Years," foreshadowed Newton's punishing fall.

This biography looks back at the destructive lifestyle that wrecked a sparkling career. When well into his sixties, Newton turned his life around and was able to confront his demons and discuss his prodigal days. He talked extensively with Russ Cheatham about his self- destruction and the great personal expense of his own bad-boy choices and late redemption.

In this candid biography, one of gospel's all-stars discloses a messed-up life that vacillated between achievement and failure, fame and infamy, happiness and grief.

Russ Cheatham is an associate professor and coordinator of the criminal justice program at Cumberland University. His work has been published in Bluegrass Unlimited and Music Row Magazine.


Alexandria, Indiana, 1994

On the video, a group of gospel music singers, many of them senior citizens, a few of them legends, have just concluded a heartfelt rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross,” one of the most popular hymns of the twentieth century. The room is filled with emotion. Some have their eyes closed in prayer, while others seem lost in somber reflection. Written by a Methodist minister, this powerful song recounts a tale of suffering, shame, and lost sinners. It seems the perfect foreshadowing for the story about to be told. A handsome sandy-haired man, now standing, clutches a microphone expertly, just as he has done hundreds of times previously. As the song ends, with the words “and exchange it some day for a crown,” he begins speaking softly in a smooth tenor voice: “When I was in high school, my daddy was a ‘Holy Roller’ preacher and I was a boy soprano. So, I got beat up every night—I did.” A sprinkling of smiles and light chuckles occur in response to the mention of “Holy Roller” preachers and getting beat up every night. The speaker continues, raising the index finger of his right hand into the air. “So, I said, ‘I got to stop this; this is killing me.’ So I learned how to box. Suddenly, nobody bothered me.” The man’s eyes light up and his voice quickens. “I could sing as high as I wanted to.” The audience, composed entirely of entertainers, are now listening in rapt attention, even those who know how the sad story ends. The leader of the group, who is smiling, plays soft tones on the piano as the man continues to tell what is obviously the story of his life.

“So, then, somebody said, ‘Cal, you can sing. I want you to sing in my quartet.’ So, I thought, ‘Well, I know how to make it; all I got to do is be . . .

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