Doris Mae Akers (May 21, 1923 – July 26, 1995) was an AmericanGospel music composer, arranger and singer. Known for her work with the Sky Pilot Choir, she was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Doris Akers was born in Brookfield, Missouri to parents Floyd and Pearl Akers. She had nine siblings; Edward, Floyd, Evelyn, Marian, Donald, Nellie, Bernice, Harley, and Charles. The family moved to nearby Kirksville when she was five years old. She learned to play the piano by ear at age six wrote her first song, “Keep The Fire Burning In Me” when she was ten years old. During the 1930s she formed a group with her siblings, Edward, Marian and Donald, who went by the name of “Dot and The Swingsters”.
In 1945, at the age of 22, Akers moved to Los Angeles. She was recruited by Sallie Martin in 1946 as a pianist and vocalist for The Sallie Martin Singers. Martin was famous for touring nationally with Professor Thomas Dorsey to sell gospel sheet music and this collaboration early in her career gave Akers insight into the business end of the music industry. Two years later she left The Sallie Martin Singers and began her own group. In 1947, she published her first song with Martin & Morris, entitled “I Want A Double Portion Of God’s Love”.
In 1948, she teamed up with Dorothy Simmons and Hattie Hawkins and formed the Simmons-Akers Trio. They released many recordings on several labels: Score, Superb, Super, Songs of the Cross, Imperial Records, RCA Victor and label Specialty Records. Doris formed the “Simmons and Akers Music House” in 1948 to market and preserve some of her original religious compositions which grew out of her religious faith.
In the mid-fifties, Akers began an association with Manna Music, founded by Tim Spencer of the Sons of the Pioneers. In early 1957, Akers recorded her first solo album called, “Sing Praises Unto The Lord” (RCA Victor 1481). The album featured many of her early compositions such as, “I Found Something”, “Lead On (Lord Jesus)”, and “Jesus Is The Name”. She was backed by her group the Simmons Akers Gospel Singers.
According to ASCAP documentation, in 1958, along with her friend Mahalia Jackson, Doris co-wrote the song, “Lord, Don’t Move the Mountain”, which sold over a million records. This composition also became a hit for another gospel superstar, Inez Andrews, over a decade later.
While in Los Angeles, she became director of the Sky Pilot Choir, an integrated choir, which was also featured on recordings, television shows, and radio broadcasts across the country. Her fresh, modern arrangements of traditional Negro spirituals drew large crowds from far and near and increased attendance at the church dramatically. They released three albums, “The Sky Pilot Choir”, “The Sky Pilot Choir Vol. 2” (with the Sutton Sisters), and “Doris Akers Sings with The Sky Pilot Choir”. Their organist on many occasions was a young Billy Preston. She ended her collaboration with the Sky Pilot Choir in 1965, but they reunited again in 1974 to record their fourth effort, “Doris Akers and the Original Members of the Sky Pilot Choir”.
Akers continued recording for RCA Victor into the mid-sixties, cutting such albums as “Forever Faithful” (1963), a collaboration with The Statesmen Quartet entitled, “Sing for You” in 1964, and “Highway to Heaven”.
After having lived in Los Angeles since the mid-forties, she moved to Columbus, Ohio in 1970. On the “He Touched Me” track of her album “All God’s Children” she recounts an incident of playing the song at the St. James Pentecostal Church in that city. She continued recording, composing and traveling. An album, “The Artistry of Doris Akers”, was released in 1979.
In the 1980s Akers issued a new gospel album every year on a regional midwest label. Each album cover featured a new color photograph of the artist to let you know it was a current production. She also recorded a few albums in Canada which were not distributed in the United States, such as Crusade LP 2702 with Glad Tidings Temple’s Harvest Time Choir.
In the United States she began recording for the Gaither label and appeared at some of their concerts and in TV productions, some fragments of which are currently available on YouTube.com. In the late 1990s she was featured in Bill Gaither’s gospel videos Old Friends and Turn Your Radio On.
She was affectionately known as “Miss Gospel Music” because she was admired and respected by everyone in the music industry over the years, she had mastered every aspect of gospel music including vocals, keyboards, choir directing, arranging, composing and publishing, she had worked with many of the pioneers of the Golden Age of Gospel Music, she had authored many standard gospel compositions, and she moved freely and successfully in all spheres of gospel music. Many of her compositions such as “Lead Me and Guide Me”, “I Cannot Fail The Lord”, “You Can’t Beat God Giving”, and “Sweet, Sweet Spirit”, sold millions for other gospel artists and evangelists. She was interviewed by Lindsay Terry for the book: “Stories Behind 50 Southern Gospel Favorites” and she explained how the hit song “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” was revealed to her during a prayer session with one of her choirs before a church service
Last years and death
Akers lived out the final years of her life in Minneapolis, Minnesota, serving as Minister of Music at Grace Temple Deliverance Center. She discovered she had spinal cancer when she visited the doctor after breaking her ankle in August 1994. Akers died July 26, 1995. She was survived by two of her sisters, Nellie & Bernice, and her brother, Donald Akers.
Legacy and Honors
Akers received many awards including back-to-back “Gospel Music Composer of the Year” in both 1960 and 1961. “Doris Akers Day” was held in Kirksville, Missouri in July, 1976. Akers was the headline act of the city’s American Bicentennial celebration, with approximately 20,000 people attending an evening concert.
In 1992, Akers was honored by the Smithsonian Institution as “the foremost black gospel songwriter in the United States”. She was posthumously inducted to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2011 Doris Akers was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame.