In the 17 years since Joshua Nelson first sang along with a Mahalia Jackson album he discovered in his grandparents' home when he was eight-years-old, he has spread th e sheer joy of spiritual music to audiences from New Jersey to Jerusalem and throughout the world. Joshua, whose voice bears a remarkable resemblance to that of the late Ms. Jackson, has performed in concert halls, synag ogues, churches, and at various outdoor venues, both solo and with such musical luminaries as Wynton Marsalis, Billy Preston, Aretha Franklin, and Stephanie Mills; Gospel greats Albertina Walker, the Barret Sisters, Hezekiah Walker, Kirk Franklin, Dottie Peoples, Dorothy Norwood, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Reverend Timothy Wright, and Bobby Jones & New Life, the greatest Jewish Klezmer band in the world, The Klezmatics, and late jazz greats Cab Calloway and Dizzy Gillespie, among others.
Highlights of Joshua's brilliant career include recording "How I Got Over", a Mahalia Jackson staple, at age 13, singing at the request of the Vaughan family at the funeral of legendary jazz diva Sarah Vaughan, at age 15, and singing at New York City's Lincoln Center in the 1993 JVC Jazz Festival, thus maintaining his special link with Mahalia Jackson, whose appearance in the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival introduced Gospel music to a deeply appreciative audience. In 1995, Joshua and Mahalia Jackson’s pianist, Eddie Robinson (who performed together extensively) accepted an award on behalf of Ms. Jackson for her induction into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in Tulsa , Oklahoma . In 1998, Joshua was selected to honor Ms. Jackson in her hometown of New Orleans , La. , where the National Postal Service unveiled its series of Gospel music stamps honoring Ms. Jackson, Clara Ward, Rosetta Thorpe, and Roberta Martin.
In 1999, he was a featured artist at the Azusa Conference in Tulsa , Oklahoma . The event became the live recording of Carlton Pearson Live at Azusa 3. Mr. Nelson's rendition of "How I Got Over" became one of the most requested songs on radio stations all over the country. "How I Got Over" became the driving force for the album, which ultimately sold over 150,000 copies, and was nominated for the Gospel Industry’s Stellar Award. Also in 1999 Joshua sang at the Globe Arena in Stockholm , Sweden (to an audience of 30,000) backed by a 5,500-voice choir, full string orchestra, and band. He performed before Bill Clinton (and an audience of 10,000) in Selma , Alabama , as the President delivered an address at the Commemoration of "Bloody Sunday," in recognition of the Voters Rights Act of 1965.
In 2001, he sang before the Swedish prime Minister, Goran Persson, and various officials at the opening of the Padei Institute for Jewish Studies. He was made an Official "Ambassador of Peace through Song" by the Swedish government. Keep On Walking, a recently released 60 minutes documentary film on Mr. Nelson, tells the story of this artist's unique ability to blend the cultural and religious aspects of his life evoking the spirit of the great Mahalia Jackson while taking audiences by storm. The film has been aired on national television in Sweden , Denmark , France , Germany , Holland , Japan , Israel , and Italy . Still in its infancy, it has already garnered awards at various film festivals; most notably the Northampton Film Festival and The Newark Black Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Film (The Paul Robeson Award). Joshua, along with the Jubilee choir, a choir made up of people from different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, have performed at the following Film Festivals- The Northampton Jewish Film Festival, The Newark Black Film Festival, The Brooklyn Jewish Film Festival (Brooklyn Academy of Music), The Boston Jewish Film Festival, The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, The Berkshire Jewish Film Festival, The London Jewish Film Festival, The Toronto Jewish Film Festival, The Berlin (Germany) Jewish Film Festival, The Copenhagen (Denmark) Jewish Film Festival, The Miami Jewish Film Festival, The Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, The West Hartford Jewish Film Festival, The Santa Rosa Jewish Film Festiva,l and the Jewish mini-series at the Manhattan Y. There are a great number of other Film Festivals that have shown this fascinating film but Mr. Nelson did not perform.
Joshua's television credits include “A+ for Kids” on WWOR-TV, with Savion Glover for the “Great, Great Kids” series; “SingSation” , a Gospel program taped in Chicago and broadcast nationally on CBS-TV (1995-1997, 2005); and Black Entertainment Television's “Bobby Jones Gospel” (1995-2003). While still in high school, Joshua organized a choir, which provided the music for the WWOR-TV video, Volunteering: A Gift of Time, sponsored by PSE&G (1992). The video debuted in Trenton , where the group performed for then Governor Jim Florio. The Film Keep on Walking aired on PBS and affiliate networks nationally in 2003 and 2004. Internationally it aired on the national networks of Sweden , Denmark , France , Germany , Holland , Japan , Israel , and Italy in 2003 and 2004. Mr. Nelson also appeared on the “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, which aired October 2004 and December 2004. Along side Jamie Fox, Mr. Nelson was named by Oprah as “The Next Big Thing.” Performing “How I Got Over” a song that Oprah works out to and “Elijah Rock” Oprah remarked, “I have never heard a voice like his, he literally brought the house down.” Most recently Ms. Winfrey along with Maya Angelou (poet and best selling author) presented Mr. Nelson in “An Evening of Healing”, a benefit concert for the Maya Angelou Center for Minority Research in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Nov, 2004).
Locally, Joshua performed before Collette Avital (then consul general) and Gov. Christine Todd Whitman at the City of Newark 's annual Holocaust commemoration in 1996. The Star-Ledger noted: "Spiritual singer Joshua Nelson, a well traveled performer, had sung early in the program. But the Governor wanted to hear him again. Just as Whitman spoke, Nelson broke into a chorus of the Jewish song “Ani Maamin”, which translates, as "I believe." Joshua presented an annual tribute to Mahalia Jackson, performing with her pianist, Edward Robinson, which attracted up to 3,000 people yearly (1992-2000). He opened for Aretha Franklin in two performances of her Gospel Crusade Against Aids at Lincoln Center in June of 1997. The New York Times reported: "Joshua Nelson declaimed spirituals in a firm, sustained style derived from Mahalia Jackson." He has also performed at Ms. Franklin's church, New Bethel Baptist Church , in Detroit , Michigan , along with Gospel artist Bobby Jones and Tremaine Hawkins, R&B songstress Stephanie Mills, and others.
Joshua also performed for the first time at the Jewish Museum in Battery Park, NY with the Klezmatics (2004). The concert, titled, “Freedom Songs for Passover,” was the beginning of collaborative works of the two groups which would ultimately lead to a concert tour in Germany, and creation of the soon to be released live album, ”Freedom Songs” (April 2005 release date) The Klezmatics with Joshua Nelson and Katherine Farmer. Joshua and the Klezmatics have fused European jewish music with the sounds of spirituals and gospel music creating a new sound.
Joshua graduated from Newark 's Arts High School in Newark , New Jersey , a school that also produced noteworthy graduates like the late Sarah Vaughan, Melba Moore, Andy Bey, Tisha Campbell, Frankie Negron, and Savion Glover. Joshua was the school's official soloist for the four years he studied there. He went on to do a two year college and kibbutz program in Israel studying at the Hebrew Union College as well as the Hebrew University . He currently serves as director of music at Hopewell Baptist Church in Newark, NJ, which is housed in a former synagogue (the former B’nai Jeshurun), and is a Hebrew school teacher for 6,7 and 8th graders at Temple Shari-Tefilo Israel, located in South Orange, NJ. Joshua has conducted extensive research on Mahalia Jackson and on the other Gospel luminaries, and has presented seminars on the history of Gospel music to young audiences. He is a proponent of preserving traditional Gospel music and travels worldwide performing the music in its original form.
His cultural and religious background and extensive travels through Israel influenced him to pioneer a new form of music he has termed KOSHER-GOSPEL MUSIC - Hebrew/Jewish music with a soul feeling. Growing up in a black Jewish synagogue, Joshua decided to take the soul Hebrew sounds prominent in many black synagogues and take them to the outside world, blending Jewish Liturgical and African American musical styles. In Joshua’s own words, “ Since the Jewish nation started in Africa , musically she shall return.” Through his unique talent, Electrifying performances and profound commitment to spiritual music, Joshua is transforming new listeners everywhere. “I want to let people hear it and realize that it is not just good to listen to - it is good for the soul."
Most Recently, Joshua embarked on an extensive European tour that included stops in Sweden , Finland , Denmark , Holland , and Germany , where he performed to standing-room-only audiences. He toured Israel (performing in perfect Hebrew as well as English), and had the opportunity to sing "Hatikvah", the Israeli national anthem, at Binyanei Ha'uma Hall in Jerusalem for an audience that included the Prime Minister of Israel.