GOGR Music History - Klaudt Indian Family

The current popularity of the Jody Brown Indian Family turned my thoughts to the first group I ever saw in a gospel concert. I remember being enthralled by this group when I was but seven years old. Their costumes, style, and instrumentations held my attention like no other. Of course, I was expecting one of them to come riding from backstage on a horse with a bow and arrow! Surely by now, you know I'm referring to the Klaudt Indian Family.

One of the most diverse groups to travel the gospel music circuits was the famous Klaudt Indian Family. Reverend Reinhold Klaudt was a German cattleman who married Lillian White Corn Little Soldier of the Arickara-Mandan tribe of Indians. She was a direct descendent of one of General Custer's scouts at the Battle of Little Big Horn and also a descendant of Chief Sitting Bull. Their story began on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Together, they raised a family dedicated to spreading the gospel through song.

Originally from "the badlands of North Dakota," the Klaudt Indian Family traveled the countryside spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. The Klaudts were members of the Church of God, and the Klaudts desired for their children to be educated in that faith at the Bible Training School in Cleveland, Tennessee. All of the children received their formal education there, where they expanded their musical abilities. The family consisted of Vernon, Melvin, Raymond, and Ken and their sister Ramona.

The Klaudt Indian Family began performing with Mom and Dad Klaudt, Vernon, Ramona, and Melvin. The other siblings joined the group as the years passed. Dad Klaudt left the performing group after several years to concentrate on being the business manager for the group.

The Klaudts settled in the Atlanta area and soon began traveling across the country holding revival services and singing in gospel concerts. The Klaudt Indian Family featured various instruments in their program including the upright bass, trumpet, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, trombone, and piano. Their music had a jazz flavor that helped open doors to the group previously unknown to the typical gospel quartet. They were also one of the first gospel singing aggregations to use a custom designed motor coach in their travels and also used semi-trucks to haul tent equipment that would expand to a seating capacity of 3,000.

 The gospel music audiences in the early years must have been taken aback at the performances of the Klaudt Indian Family. While all the other groups in gospel music were using only a piano for their accompaniment, the Klaudts would showcase their music with strings and horns. Not only did their instrumentation set them apart from the norm, but they often performed in elaborate native Indian costumes. This unique presentation allowed them to appear in many venues across the country. They quickly became a fixture on the Wally Fowler All Night Singing programs.

It has been said that the Klaudt Indian Family was the first nationally known gospel music group, due to their engagements throughout the country. In addition to gospel concerts and church venues, they played engagements in Las Vegas, state fairs, professional sports games, and theme parks. In their heyday, they would typically play more than 400 dates a year.

 In addition to their singing, the Klaudt Indian Family also had their own recording label. They recorded several other gospel groups on their Family Tone label, and published sheet music and song folios to distribute to the gospel music community.

Except for their noted pianists, the Klaudt Indian Family remained a family group. Vernon, Ramona, Melvin, Raymond, and Ken sang together until Ramona was married. Vernon's wife, Betty, added her talents to the group. Ramona’s husband, Dr. Charles Carpenter, also performed with the family for about a year following their marriage. Some of the pianists that have taken the stage with the group include Mildred Hunter (former pianist for Mahalia Jackson), Jimmy Doan (uncle of the famous Gatlin Brothers), Mack Evans (noted gospel music vocalist), Tony Brown (former Stamps and Oaks pianist and now a noted music executive in Nashville), Mel Stuart, David Whorton, Larry Turner, and Ralph Siebel among others.

 The Klaudt Indian Family demonstrated their versatility in their musical arrangements as they would perform in various aggregations including a male quartet, mixed trio, male trio, duets, solos, and instrumentals in their programs and on their recordings. Solos by Mom Klaudt backed by her boys highlighted each Klaudt Indian Family performance.

Television was a vital part in the growing popularity of the Klaudt Indian Family. They were fixtures on the syndicated program, Bob Poole's Gospel Favorites. Recently, I was playing some of their recordings, and I was amazed at the great instrumentation and the unique harmony that the Klaudts employed in the studio. I suppose this writer had overlooked their musical talents through the years, having centered more on their heritage and costumes.

The Klaudt Indian Family traveled as a group for more than four decades before retiring in the early  1980s. One of their final performances was on the stage of the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 1996 which featured Mom Klaudt at age 90. Mom Klaudt passed away in March of 2001 and Dad passed away about four months later. Mrs. Klaudt was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2004. Most of her family was there to share in this honor.

The siblings are all still living and involved in various business ventures. They continue to keep the ministry of the Klaudt Indian Family alive. They have established a Klaudt Memorial Foundation to fund scholarships through Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee where the Klaudt family received their higher education. The purpose of the  scholarship is to honor the heritage and legacy of Mom and Dad Klaudt and to promote the teaching of gospel music to a new generation.

I would like to thank my friend, Melvin "Chief" Klaudt, for his input on this article. I would like to encourage you to visit their web site at www.klaudtmemorial.com for more detailed information about the Klaudt Memorial Foundation and their current endeavors.

 

 


Comments:
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Name:
Marie Mills
Email:
rhr38606@hotpop.com

Comments

Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading about the Klaudt Indian Family. As a child, we would go to the annual all night sing in Tupelo, MS at the Fairgrounds. It was always held the Saturday night before July 4th. This group , along with the Speer Family, Naomi & The Segos, Dixie Echos, and many more, not only shared God's message with us, but allowed us to visit with them and their family. Growing up with The Lone Ranger didn't always show the better side of Indians. This family seem to restore dignity to their people. 
 

Name:
Joe Mannon
Email:
jsmannon@charter.net

Comments

John, very interesting article on a colorful gospel group from the past. I was fortunate to have been able to see them perform, and was as entralled as you were, and it was exciting to see them at the GOGR. I never realized that Mack Evans and Tony Brown were part of the Klaudts. joe


Name:
Gerald Willams
Email:
tmbqbass@aol.com

Comments

Thanks John ..... another great history lesson on a great family of gospel music.


Name:
Gerald Willams
Email:
tmbqbass@aol.com

Comments

Thanks John ..... another great history lesson on a great family of gospel music.


Name:
Dean Adkins
Email:
adkinsda@marshall.edu

Comments

John, Another excellent article -- a fascinating group. I have a Klaudt Family Coloring Book that a friend (DM) gave me. Dean


Name:
Glenn Camp
Email:
hgcamp@cablelynx.com

Comments

I definitely remember seeing the Klaudt Indian Family on several occassions. I first saw them at a concert with other quartets and the last time I saw them was when we stopped in Huntsville, Alabama in May 1957 to spend the night and noticed they were conducting a tent revival and singing and went to hear them. Never heard them again after that.


Name:
Email:

Comments

Great photo of the Kingsmen Four. I had seen that photo. Good job, John. russ cheatham


Name:
Gayla
Email:
gaylaf@juno.com

Comments

John, thank you so much for this informational article! I had no idea on the history of this wonderful family group! I am very impressed with their accomplishments. I only have one album of theirs. Thank you for your wonderful research and presentation!


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