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Inez Andrews, 83; rose to become gospel music pillar

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NEW YORK — Inez ­Andrews, whose soaring, wide-ranging voice — from contralto croon to soul-wrenching wail — made her a pillar of gospel music, died Wednesday of cancer at home in Chicago. She was 83.

“She was the last great female vocalist of gospel’s golden age,’’ said Anthony Heilbut, author of ‘‘The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times’’ (1971). Ms. Andrews was known as the ‘‘High Priestess,’’ Heilbut said, ranking among the likes of Mahalia Jackson, Marion Williams, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Clara Ward.

Ms. Andrews, of Birmingham, Ala., came to national attention in 1958 with the Caravans, the Chicago gospel group that also nurtured Shirley Caesar, the Rev. James Cleveland, and Bessie Griffin. That year she was the lead singer for what became two of the Caravans’ biggest hits, ‘‘I’m Not Tired Yet,’’ and ‘‘Mary Don’t You Weep.’’

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