Gospel singer James Cleveland began singing as a young child when he attended his grandmother's church choir rehearsals. Cleveland's first musical composition was a song titled "I Want to See Jesus."
James Cleveland worked as a minister in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago. Cleveland's career eventually took him to Los Angeles, where he grew the Cornerstone Baptist Church from 100 to more than 7,000 members. Cleveland won five Grammy awards.
His gospel record "Peace Be Still" was the first gospel record to sell more than 50,000 copies. In addition to performing his own vocal works, Cleveland wrote and arranged gospel music for several other soloists and ensembles, including Roberta Martin. Cleveland's career earned him the titles "Crown Prince of Gospel" and "King of Gospel." Congestive heart failure caused his death in 1991 at the age of 59.
Cleveland died without a will, though a trust left the vast majority of Cleveland's fortune to Cornerstone Church and the Gospel Music Workshop of America. The trust left a small amount to Cleveland's biological daughter and a nominal amount to Cleveland's godson Andre Cleveland. Shortly after James Cleveland's death, Andre Cleveland announced that he was Cleveland's common-law son and demanded a share of James Cleveland's fortune.