David Lauderdale

Gospel singer prays for a break

Alvina "Sue" Cleveland Gadson is waiting patiently at the bus stop of life.

For 20 years, she's been driving a yellow school bus. In three runs a day, she gets children safely to and from Beaufort Middle School and Mossy Oaks Elementary School.

But the St. Helena Island native knows in her soul that she has a higher calling.

She's a singer, blessed with a voice that is both soprano and alto. A second-place finish in a regional gospel talent search last month has given her new hope that the nation will someday know what St. Helena Island knows: The baby of Allen and Helen Cleveland's 14 children can flat out sing.

She has sung in the Adams Street Baptist Church choir since she was 9.

For 15 years, she and sister Georgetta Middleton performed as the Cleveland Sisters, managed by sister Pam Cleveland Coaxum. They made it to a big gospel show in Atlanta, and they performed before the S.C. House of Representatives at the invitation of former Rep. Catherine Ceips. They cut a CD and caught the ears of music historian and author Harry Turner and the late Bill Pinkney of the Original Drifters.

Gadson also has sung spirituals at the Eddings Point praise house, a link to the old-time religion she learned as a child and to the deep musical roots of St. Helena Island.

On Sunday afternoon, she'll perform at Dye's Gullah Fixin's restaurant in Pineland Station on Hilton Head Island. Dye is trying to shine a spotlight on local musicians, as well as traditional Lowcountry food. The singing is supposed to start at 2 p.m.

If Gadson has a new spring in her step, it's because her showing in the national Crazy Praise Live talent competition in Savannah earned her an invitation to sing at its national show before 40,000 people next year in Orlando. With a band from the Family Worship Center in Pocotaligo behind her, Gadson placed second among 27 competitors in Savannah. She hopes this new attention will fulfill her old dream of a national recording contract.

"I want to use the gift God has given me," she said. "I want to sing to the glory of God."

She wants her voice to pick others up when they're down. She said it works for her, a single mother of six children and two grandchildren.

She waits for her big break, squeaking open the school bus door for children who sometimes ask her to sing to them.

And she ponders in her heart the words of Psalm 23. "'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,' " Gadson said. "It tells me that He is always there for me. And even when I do make it, He'll still be there for me."