Clarence Rufus J. Rivers

Clarence Rufus J. Rivers (September 9, 1931 November 21, 2004) was a priest and well-known composer of liturgical music. His work combined Roman Catholic worship with traditional African-American music. He wrote several books on music and spirituality as well.[1]

Clarence Rivers was born in Selma, Alabama, but his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio when he was young.[1] It was there that he began his study for the priesthood. He did graduate work at Xavier and Yale Universities, as well as the Catholic University of America and L’Institut Catholique de Paris. He received his doctorate in African-American Culture and Catholic Liturgy from the Union Institute in 1978. Fr. Rivers was the first African-American to be ordained in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.[2] He was passionate about the drama of public worship, as well as the music that was the "soul" of worship.[1] He was equally devoted to African American culture and was known for his lavish vestments and distinctive jewelry.[1] It was his music that made him famous, beginning with his "An American Mass Program," which combined Gregorian Chant with the melodic patterns and rhythms of traditional Negro Spirituals.[3] His most beloved hymn was "God is Love." He first sang the song at the National Liturgical Conference in 1964, and received a 10-minute standing ovation.[3] He received the 2002 Berakah Award. In addition to being a gifted composer, he had an acclaimed vocal style. But it was his personal faith and belief in the liturgy as a place where one encountered God that motivated all of his work.[1]

He died unexpectedly at age 73.


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