The Big Picture

The Gospel Love Tones keep on spreading the good news

They got their start under street lamps, singing doo-wop and soul for family, friends, and neighbors in the Village, a historically black neighborhood of West Newton. That was decades ago. Brothers Walter and Stephen Cooper and a cousin, Richard Evans, have never stopped singing. Even as construction of the Mass. Pike largely decimated their community. Even as their lives were consumed by careers, marriages, children, and personal trials. Even as their musical interests evolved — as youthful dreams of becoming the next Four Tops faded and they gravitated to spirituals and gospel. “We’ve been singing forever, it seems like,” Walter Cooper says. Since 1988, they’ve been performing as the Gospel Love Tones, their timeless music rooted in history but fiercely relevant to the present. “Gospel is the aches and pains and the sorrows and the moanings of a depressed, enslaved people,” Evans says. Stephen Cooper says: “Gospel is, to me, the spreading of the good news.” Today, with a fourth member, Kenny Haywood, the Gospel Love Tones bring warm, four-part harmonies and an uplifting message to schools, assisted-care facilities, holiday celebrations, and to Myrtle Baptist Church, a vibrant centerpiece of the old neighborhood. In this political climate, Evans says, gospel has once again become a source of comfort and hope — especially for African-Americans. “So much is going on today,” Stephen Cooper says, “that we can try to alleviate or bring some sense of peace and tranquillity to this world.”--By Scott Helman and photography Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
As other members of the Gospel Love Tones arrive for a gig at a nursing home in Newton, Stephen Cooper tests the microphone. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Before they were the Gospel Love Tones, Stephen Cooper and his brother, Walter Cooper, were members of a group called the Authentics, with Buddy Monteiro and William Lessenberry, all seen in this photograph circa 1972. (Gospel Love Tones)
Members of the Gospel Love Tones Stephen Cooper, Walter Evans, Walter Cooper and Kenny Haywood sit and chat before performing at a nursing home in Newton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Members Stephen Cooper and Kenny Haywood (right) put on their jackets as they prepare to perform as part of a program called “Hidden Meaning in Negro Spirituals,” for students at Grafton Job Corps in North Grafton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Richard Evans (center) sings with Stephen Cooper (left) and Kenny Haywood at the Newton nursing home. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Haywood (left) and the Cooper brothers shake hands with students after the program at the Grafton Job Corps Center in North Grafton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Walter Cooper carries his bag down the stairs after performing in North Grafton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Stephen Cooper (left) and his brother Walter share a laugh before their performance at the nursing home in Newton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
A photograph of Walter Cooper as a young man sits on top of the piano inside the home he grew up in and still lives in now and where he and the other members meet to practice. Walter started singing with some of the members of the quartet over 50 years ago, “We’ve been singing forever, it seems like.” says Cooper. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Walter Cooper (left) reaches up to grab his suit coat before heading out for a gig. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Members practice together at Walter’s home in Newton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Walter Cooper leaves his home as he and the Gospel Love Tones head off to a gig. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
The Myrtle Baptist Church remains as the backbone of the West Newton community that was displaced by the Mass, Pike. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Stephen Cooper performs a solo with the choir during Sunday service at Myrtle Baptist Church. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
The sun streams through a stained-glass window illuminating the inside of Myrtle Baptist Church as a man prays before the start of a Sunday service. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Walter Cooper sings during part of a program called, “Hidden Meaning in Negro Spirituals” in North Grafton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Walter Cooper (left) embraces a cousin as another cousin, Richard Evans, is stopped by an audience member before performing in Newton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Members of the Gospel Love Tones join hands in prayer before the North Grafton show. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Kenny Haywood, Stephen Cooper, and his brother, Walter, warm up inside of their car as they arrive to perform at the First Baptist Church in Waltham. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Kenny Haywood looks out of the window as they prepare to perform for students in North Grafton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Walter Cooper greets members of the audience after he and the Gospel Love Tones performed in Newton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Richard Evans arrives at his cousin’s place to practice. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
The Gospel Love Tones join hands and pray together at the end of a practice at the Cooper family home in Newton. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
The group’s music connects with many different audiences, like this one at a Weston nursing home. A woman at a nursing home in Weston sings along with the Gospel Love Tones. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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