BLACK CHURCH RUMOR Sexual Violence and Black (Gay) Gospel’s Reverend James Cleveland

Ahmad Greene-Hayes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 1992, Jet published “James Cleveland Infected L.A. Youth with HIV, $9 Mil. Lawsuit Claims,” which detailed how the Chicago‐born gospel musician had not only allegedly sexually abused his foster son, Christopher B. Harris, but had also “[given] him the AIDS virus.” This article takes this incident of rumor or accusation as a critical opportunity to think about the archival reality of Black queer sexuality, on one hand, and sexual violence in Black gospel music history on the other. Using the legal documents from Christopher B. Harris v. Irwin Goldring as Special Administrator of the Estate of James Cleveland and commentary from Cleveland's contemporaries, it exhumes Cleveland from dusty church closets for consideration in the history of HIV and AIDS in African American Protestant church and gospel communities and in Black queer studies, ethnomusicology, and gender and sexuality studies. Further, it theorizes “Black church rumor” as a lens for Black queer religious studies and argues that Cleveland's perceived queer sexuality distracted from Harris's allegations of sexual abuse. Thus, it situates Cleveland—the person, the preacher, and the gospel legend—in the literature on “down low” sexuality and explicates the implications of Cleveland's legacy and role in Black gospel music production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-143
Number of pages29
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022


  • African American religions
  • James Cleveland
  • Protestants
  • gospel music
  • queer
  • sexual abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies


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