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Ligon got love of gospel music from his father

Joe Ligon can remember picking cotton when he was 13 years old. He used to pull the cotton sack to the highway and look at the different state license plates on the cars that passed by.

"I said I was going to go to every state that I see on a license plate," he said.

Ligon has done that and the some. That little boy who worked in the fields of Troy is now the lead singer of the Grammy-winning gospel group, Mighty Clouds of Joy.

"God has blessed me," he said.

Not only has Ligon traveled across the country, but the Clouds have also traveled to England, Paris, Switzerland, Africa, Spain and Japan.

Ligon said his love of gospel music came from his father.

"My dad was a gospel singer," he said. "He was as good as I was, if I'm that good, but nobody knew it."

His gospel-loving dad took Ligon to see the Blind Boys of Alabama and Ligon knew "I had to get me a group like that."

Ligon realized that if he wanted to sing professionally, he would have to move somewhere that would make him possible.

So, when he was a teenager, he moved to Los Angeles, Calif., to live with his uncle. While there, he became part of the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the rest is history.

But even though he's been away from Troy for awhile, he has always considered it home.

"I'm where I started from," he said. "When I'm home I'm grounded."

That says a lot coming from a man who has performed with a range of popular singers from Gene Autry to the Rolling Stones.

"It was most exciting appearing as the opening act for Rolling Stones," he said. "We were wondering how the Rolling Stones crowd would react, but they were very receptive."

One of the guitar players had heard the Clouds in concert and before the gospel group knew it, Mick Jagger had called and personally requested them for his opening act.

"To make us more comfortable, he came into our dressing room and told us to just go out there and do what you do," Ligon recalled.

The group was also the first gospel act to appear on Soul Train. Ligon said the experience was good in some ways but a disaster in others.

"Even my daddy got mad," he said.

But the Clouds could see the wave of contemporary Christian music and they wanted to be the first on the train.

"Our sound has never changed, but the music has changed," he said. "We helped start the contemporary sound. We did contemporary when it wasn't cool."

The Clouds soon became known as the Temptations of gospel music with their colorful suits. Up to that time, gospel singers wore contemporary black, brown or white suits.

Gospel music runs in the family, and Ligon's cousin, Sandy Jordan Jr., has also found success.

Like Ligon, Jordan grew up with the gospel sound.

"My mother always sang in the choir," he said. "And she's always go to the gospel singings."

Jordan is from the Macedonia community in Goshen, and though his parents moved when he was six, he still calls Troy home.

Though he is not blind, Jordan is the lead singer for The Original Five Blind Boys of Mississippi.

"People always ask me what part of Mississippi I'm from," he said. "I tell them that I may sing with the Blind Boys of Mississippi, but I'm from Troy, Alabama."

Like Ligon, Jordan has traveled the globe.

"I've been everywhere," he said. "There ain't too many places I haven't been."

The Blind Boys and the Clouds also perform together all over the country. But neither singer forgets where his roots are.

Ligon has been home every year for the past 10 years and Jordan doesn't miss a family reunion.

"It's great if they don't have but six people there," Ligon said the day of his concert at Cattleman's Park. "I am thrilled to be here."