Bishop James Morton, 76, noted musician and preacher, dies

While a cause of death remains unknown, Morton, who started preaching at 22 in Detroit's Mount Zion Church of God in Christ, reportedly suffered a heart attack in August and had a heart valve replaced.

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A Georgia community is mourning after the passing of well-known musician and preacher Bishop James Morton, who died of an unknown cause on Feb. 11. He was 76.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Elder Shawn Bryant, an assistant minister who remembered Morton as a humble man, said the Decatur pastor suffered a heart attack in August and had a heart valve replaced.

Kimberly Morton Powell, Morton’s daughter, recalled visiting her father’s body with her mother after his passing.

Georgia church leader and musician Bishop James Morton passed away from an unknown cause on Feb. 11. He was 76. (Photo: Screenshot/ New Beginning Full Gospel Baptist Church)

“I knew whatever happened, he was at peace,” she said, according to The AJC, “he didn’t have a scowl or a frown on his face. He looked like he was at peace.”

Morton started preaching at 22 in Detroit’s Mount Zion Church of God in Christ, per his relatives. He accepted a call from True Faith Baptist in Detroit two years later and spent the next 14 years there until becoming the pastor of Thankful Baptist Church in Atlanta.

According to The AJC, in August 1993, Morton left Thankful Baptist, taking 1,000 members with him, and established New Beginning Full Gospel Baptist Church in the Decatur High School gymnasium. The following year, the congregation relocated to a property on Valley Brook Road, its current location.

For 30 years, Morton, the popular pastor and musician from a distinguished family of ministers, led his congregation at New Beginning in various missions for the poor and homeless. He also spoke at and led worship services.

Special assistant Paul McClary, the ministry liaison, said New Beginning has more than 40 ministries covering almost every subject, from providing food for the community at Christmas and Thanksgiving to helping the hard of hearing.

According to McClary, Morton intended to address the demands of the people. He reportedly gave church members his home phone number and encouraged them to call when they needed him.

“If someone said they didn’t have money to get to church, [the] Bishop would say, ‘See me after church,’ and he’d hand them money,” McClary recalled, The AJC reported.

Bishop James Morton
Bishop James Morton, who died Feb. 11, is shown seated at his pulpit at New Beginning Full Gospel Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia. (Photo: Screenshot/ New Beginning Full Gospel Baptist Church)

Before the coronavirus pandemic, according to McClary, 9,000 people attended the two Sunday services at New Beginning. Services continued after that, streaming on social media and airing on television when people started staying at home. Several metro churches were closing, but New Beginning managed to burn its mortgage and go debt-free during the pandemic.

Bishop Paul S. Morton is Morton’s younger brother, who established sizable churches in Atlanta and New Orleans. He recalled that his sibling was always singing as a child.

With his father’s assistance, James Morton developed his musical skills on the piano and organ before starting a vocal group that performed around Michigan. The pastor once served as music director for the Rev. C.L. Franklin, father of the late music icon Aretha Franklin.

Relatives and acquaintances remembered Morton as a funny man who, if he hadn’t chosen to become a preacher, may have become a comic.

Even as he presided over an active church, Morton continued to sing, collaborating with his bishop brother, along with Aretha Franklin, Bishop William Murphy III, Bishop Carlton Pearson and the Azusa Mass Choir, plus the late Rev. James Cleveland.

Morton, the fourth of nine children, is survived by six siblings; daughter Kimberly Morton Powell; son Jason Morton; and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

“He loved singing and he loved music,” said Bishop Paul Morton, who added that his brother “was my best friend,” The AJC reported, “and I’ll miss him.”

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