Rainbow Push was originally known as Operation Breadbasket, the economic arm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). During the era often referred to as the Civil Rights Movement, Operation Breadbasket was an instrumental organization under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During the early 1960s, he sent one of his young dynamic ministers to Chicago to lead Breadbasket. It was during this era when Rev. Jesse Jackson called upon Billy Jones to organize a choir. A gifted and talented musician, Jones began singing at the age of 4 and later became a classically trained vocalist.

As a member of the original choir during the ’60s, it was always a joy to attend choir rehearsal and participate in concerts. Some of the original members like Rita J. Cloyd, Diane Montgomery, Selma Brown, Audrey Booker, Larry & Kim Pittman, Sue Conway, Brenda Lee Edgar, Pat Henley, Brenda Morgan and Delores Scott, were not only early members but also activists who walked picket lines, often singing songs Billy had taught them.

When Billy Jones directed a choir, you could count on a musical show. He was so gifted that when we would sing our signature classic, “Down by the Riverside,” he would often signal certain choral parts by dropping his handkerchief to the floor. Needless to say, this would always wow the audience, and no matter what gesture he would develop, the choir’s eyes were fixed and ready for his next move.

Jones shared the stage with such greats as Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Diana Ross, Isaac Hayes, The Jackson 5, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and many others. In 1976, he was called to the ministry and became a pastor at Sunrise Baptist Church. In 1982, he founded Samaritan Bible Baptist Church.

On Nov. 1, 2009, Rev. Billy Jones died. He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Jeanette; his sons, Rev. Demetrius, Lewis, and Rev. Bryant Jones, the current Rainbow Push Choir Director; his siblings, Bobby, Bettie, Mary and Simon; his 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren

Services were held at Sweet Holy Spirit Church where Bishop Larry Trotter is pastor. Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Rev. Clay Evans, Rev. Darius Brooks, and many other prominent ministers participated in his homegoing service.

-Delores McCain