This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is number forty nine in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of vinyl albums in my personal collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate”, and they represent vinyl albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.
Although the artists on this album recorded as early as 1940’s, this album only came into being in 1985.
One of the fantastic things that began to happen from around this period onward was the production of albums that drew together artists and music that were never bought together previously.
Gospel music is a fascinating style because it both stands alone as a genuine identifiable style, and at the same time provided elements that assisted in the development of other styles including blues, rhythm and blues, soul and rock and roll.
So we come to this weeks album, “Black Gospel: classic recordings of the gospel sound“.
It was released on MCA records (MCLD 614.
It is a gate fold cover with two LP’s and there are a total of 17 artists and 28 tracks. Among the artists featured are some of the most ‘classic’ such as “Sister Rosetta Tharpe“, “The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi” and “The Dixie Hummingbirds“, to name a few.
The history of Gospel music is a hard one to ‘nail’ down, as it can be successfully argued that it could be traced back over 2,000 years.
Yet we can trace the history of recorded gospel music pretty accurately. It seems that it can be traced back to the “Dinwiddie Coloured Quartet” in 1903. Formed in 1898 initially as the “Jubilee Quartet“, it was proposed by some researchers that not only was it the first recorded gospel music, but was the first black recording.
However, for anyone interested, it has been determined that the first recording was almost 10 years earlier, on a wax cylinder, featuring the “Unique Quartette“.
In fact this album was made to companion a major publication, “Black Gospel: An Illustrated History Of The Gospel Sound” (Blanford Press, 1985).
Now it would be foolish to believe that the music on this album could cover all the diverse and fantastic voices and group arrangements that make up this joyous music, called Gospel!
So what has happened is that the producers have cleverly provided a damn good taste of gospel from what might be referred to as the ‘Golden Period’ of gospel, that is gospel produced through the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s.
Being gospel, one clever writer talked about the three decades as representing the Father, Son and Holy Ghost!
It’s interesting that really all black music, except gospel, has one thing in common. Be it R&B, Soul, Jazz or Blues (Delta & Electric), they have all been up front and out of the shadows.
All have been recognised and taken their rightful place collective musical inheritance.
Yet when it comes to gospel, it has largely been the most consistent form of music hidden from history.
There are artists such as Sam Cook, Solomon Burke and Aretha Franklin, who made the successful cross-over to the more commercial forms of black music.
So whether it’s a case of Gospel refusing commercial overtures, or, the ‘commercial’ world failing to see the depth of gospel music, it kind of matters not.
The fact of the matter is that this seriously unique music form, with both its spiritual and emotional scope, largely remains unappreciated by the wider audiences.
I love this quote from the inner cover. “Audiences and congregations were frequently ‘slayed in the spirit’ … overcome by the intensity of the moment. Indeed, at one time in New Orleans, Archie Brownlee and the Five Blind Boys were required to post a Peace Bond with the Mayor’s office because they were overloading the local hospitals with comatose saints.”
That sort of extraordinary passion and zeal are captured in these 28 tracks, yet, the misconception is that gospel is nothing but tambourine shaking, holy-rollering stomping music.
This may be the case with some gospel, but on this album you will also be treated to a harsh but passionate beauty, with few concessions to popular music taste.
|| Sister Rosetta Tharpe –
|| Up Above My Head I Hear Music In The Air
|A2|| Sister Rosetta Tharpe –
||Who Rolled The Stone Away|
|A3|| Sensational Nightingales –
|A4|| Sensational Nightingales –
||It’s No Secret|
|A5|| Rev Robert Ballinger –
||The King’s Highway|
|| Rev Robert Ballinger –
||The Little Black Train|
|A7|| Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi –
||Sermonette: Father I Streched My Hands To Thee|
|B1|| Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi –
|B2|| Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi –
||In The Hands Of The Lord|
|B3|| Clara Ward And The Ward Sisters –
|B4|| Clara Ward And The Ward Sisters –
||The Ways Of The Lord|
|B5|| The Spirit Of Memphis –
||Further On Up The Road|
|B6|| The Sunset Travellers –
||On Jesus’ Programme|
|B7|| The Mighty Clouds Of Joy –
||Sermonette: Use Me Lord|
|C1|| The Mighty Clouds Of Joy –
||A Friend In Jesus|
|C2|| The Gospelaires Of Dayton Ohio –
|| Remember Me Jesus
|C3|| The Gospelaires Of Dayton Ohio –
||Joy, Joy, Joy|
|C4|| Inez Andrews And The Andrewettes –
|| The Need Of Prayer
|C5|| Inez Andrews And The Andrewettes –
||I’m Glad About It|
|C6|| Little Axe And The Golden Echoes –
|| My Life Is In His Hands
|C7|| The Pilgrim Jubilee Singers –
|| Sermonette: A Child’s Blood
|D1|| The Pilgrim Jubilee Singers –
|| The Old Ship
|D2|| The Williams Brothers With Ida Lee Brown
|| He’s My Saviour
|D3|| The Dixie Hummingbirds –
||Prayer For Peace|
|D4|| The Dixie Hummingbirds –
|| If Anybody Asks You
|D5|| The Jackson Southernaires –
|| How Long Will It Last?
|D6|| The Biblical Gospel Singers –
|| I Come To Praise Him
|D7|| Ollie Collins Jnr –
||This Is My Prayer|
Personally, while there are so many tracks on this album that I really love to listen to, there is one that is my outright favourite – Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
I have a number of her releases on CD, and sooner than later I will do a ‘Cream Of The Crate: CD” series of reviews, and the good sister will be among the first reviewed.
That having been declared, I won’t go deeply into her background now, suffice to say she has an utterly amazing voice.
She was born Rosetta Nubin in 1915, and during her career development, she married a preacher by the name of Thomas Thorpe, at the age of 19.
Within 3 years they were divorced but she kept his surname, and kept the ‘spiritual’ element, hence the title ‘Sister‘! A bloody good move in my opinion.
When you listen to the good sister you hear real joy in her voice, you hear someone who has been touched by the ‘spirit’, yet, she is someone who also appreciates the skills required to entertain.
A considerable selection of her music has her accompanying herself on guitar, but she also embraced that ‘bigger band’ sound, as demonstrated with tracks she recorded for Decca with the ‘Lucky’ Millinder Band.
In fact she shocked many of her stricter religious followers with her foray into the commercial world but, her secular audience loved her!
“Up Above My Head I Hear Music In The Air“! What a fabulous track.
If you have never listened to any Sister Rosetta Tharpe I can’t imagine a better track to introduce her to you with.
It has that ‘joy’ element I mentioned earlier, it is steeped in gospel fervor and yet, it really rocks along.
Up Above My Head I Hear Music In The Air
It would be impossible, if not downright irresponsible, not to provide a track featuring the “Five Blind Boys of Mississippi“.
Forming in 1936 as a student quartet they took the name “Cotton Blossom Singers“.
Initially there was only four members (Archie Brownlee, Joseph Ford, Laurence Abrams and Lloyd Woodard).
In 1937, led by power singer Archie Brownlee, they recorded a number of ‘sacred’ tracks for music researcher Alan Lomax, as the “Blind Boys“. Then in the early 1940’s they were join by Melvin Henderson (who was also known as Melvin Hendrix).
In the mid 1940’s the group moved to Chicago and changed their name to “The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi“.
They became an instant hit with Brownlee joining them.
He had been blind from birth but that never stopped him from leaping from the stage into the audience.
However, his entertaining stage presence was in fact backed up by a voice that could move from a sweet croon to a devastating scream. Yet later the act got wilder and even more popular with the addition of hard gospel shouter, Rev. Percell Perkins, who replaced Henderson.
In fact Perkins (who was not blind) started as their manager and then began singing with the group.
Over the years there were many changes in the group: Archie Brownlee, Henry Johnson, J.T Clinkscales, Joseph Ford, Laurence Abrams, Lloyd Woodard, Melvin Hendersen, Rev. George W. Warren, Rev. Percell Perkins, Rev. Sammy Lewis, Roscoe Robinson, Tiny Powell & Willmer Broadnax, were all in the group at some point.
In the track “Our Father” we experience the beauty of the gospel singing of the Five Blind Boys, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the hair stood up on the back of your neck.
Brownlee’s voice is both beautiful and strong, and it’s no surprise that he had such an influence on the up and coming young singer, Sam Cook.
The next group I’m presenting, aren’t being presented because they are well known or even well appreciated.
In fact even information about the formation and background of the “The Gospelaires of Daytona, Ohio” are sketchy at best.
Liner notes to their third Peacock album (Bones in the Valley, PLP 111, 1963) tell that joint-managers Clarence Kendricks and Melvyn Pullen founded the Gospelaires in 1954 and that original members Stanley Landers, Clarence Kendricks, Percy Gowder, Robert Lattimore and MervynPullen were drawn from various churches around the Dayton area.
The group played around the state and quickly built an outstanding reputation.
This all lead up to their appearance on the 15th anniversary celebration for blind pianist and singer, the late Prof. Harold Boggs (who recorded for Nashboro) at his ‘Gypsum Tabernacle’ located in his home town of Port Clinton, Ohio on November 29, 1956.
The group was blessed, or cursed with many, many membership changes over the years.
However, it seemed they were blessed no matter what line-up hit the stage and they successfully performed right through the 1960’s.
The Gospelaires also tore it up on gospel “Caravan” shows at The Apollo in Harlem and Uptown in Philadelphia.
In 1968, Don Robey persuaded Charles McLean to cross over from Gospel to more commercial music.
Under the name the “Chuck McLain soubriquet“, he recorded “My Lover’s Vow” for his Back Beat subsidiary. In fact the release flopped and he returned to the Gospelaires in 1970.
The Gospelaires split up a decade later.
I just love this example of emotionally charged gospel singing. It must have had the audience, be it in church or stadium, clapping and dancing in the aisles!
Joy, Joy, Joy
Now to the Dixie Hummingbirds.
They had a gospel pedigree that stretches back into the 1920’s, when James B. Davis and his classmates sang in local churches in 1928.
Well know lead singer, Ira Tucker, joined the group at the age of 13 in 1938 and almost immediately the group was offered a recording contact by Decca Records.
Tucker had a fantastic, if not formidable vocal skill, and was largely responsible for innovations in the group such as, combining the ‘shout’ style of gospel singing with melismatic singing.
He was consciously or not in fact calling on music styles of ancient cultures that melismatic techniques to induce a hypnotic trance in the listener.
Now this isn’t a music theory lesson, but putting it simply, the majority of vocals are ‘syllabic’ – where each syllable of text is matched to a single note.
With ‘melismatic‘ singing, the singing of each syllable of text is done while moving between different notes in succession. Arabic music is a great example of the use of melismatic singing.
Mix that with a syncopated beat, and the Dixie Hummingbirds had developed a unique style.
But, that wasn’t enough for Tucker, who also took the earlier energetic showmanship, such as developed by Archie Brownlee, and took it to a whole new level.
As the Hummingbirds membership changed over the years, they adapted and adopted a variety of other styles into their act.
In fact in 1973 The group sang the backup vocals on Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock“, and “Tenderness“, from his album “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon“.
Ira Tucker died due to complications from heart disease on the morning of June 24, 2008, at the age of 83. The group has continued on in his memory, but somehow when Tucker passed on, the Dixie Hummingbirds lost a key part of their ‘song’, and a huge slice of their soul.
The track “If Anybody Asks You” was written by Ira Tucker and shows that even some 60 years after the first gospel track was recorded, that gospel composition and indeed singing, had lost nothing.
Clap your hands, raise your eyes and let forth with gusto. If anybody asks you, “what are you doing?”, tell them you are being taken over by gospel music – the purest thing there is on this earth!
If Anybody Asks You
So as you listen to the tracks I have provided just remember, it’s not easy listening music, and it’s not easy to listen to statements about life and death. But if you listen you might also hear some of the best gospel blues, exquisite harmonies, the classic ‘shout’ gospel or even the dramatic sermonettes.
If you are interested in obtaining this record, I couldn’t find a copy Ebay, but Googling came up with three copies from overseas sources. The album cost was between Au$10.00 and Au$30.00 plus postage.
To my knowledge it has not been re-released on CD.
There are a number of videos involving artists on this album, but only very few are live performances. I have chosen four that I think best represent the music we have discussed.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Shout Sister Shout
Blind Boys Of Alabama – Look Where He Brought Me From
The Gospelaires of Daytona – Joy and rest For the Weary
The Dixie Hummingbirds – A Short History
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
Click to open:
#47. Donavon – Open Road