Monday, September 28, 2009

The Golden Era Gospel Blog Interviews Linwood Heath

The following introduction was taken from the WNAP-AM website.

Linwood is a native Philadelphian and got his first taste of Gospel music as a teenager, while singing with the Savoy Singers. He began broadcasting in 1965 on WDAS in Philly. He was trained and mentored by the legendary Louise Williams. He left broadcasting in 1970 and found a church home, the New Gethsemane Baptist Church in South Philadelphia. There he organized the Youth Community Choir and organized the Willing Workers. In 1972 he was asked to co-host a black Gospel TV Show “Deep River” on Channel 29. This hour long show featured local artists and ministers.
In 1982 he was persuaded to return to radio by Basil Callamore who started a daily show, Gospel Highway on WYIS, Linwood came on board in the mornings. In 1989, the Pennsylvania Historical Society presented him with the Martin Luther Medal of Freedom, for his program Great Moments in Gospel. For several years Linwood has given lectures at colleges and universities on the history of Gospel Music. In May 2001, Emmy Award Producers, Jim Brown and Sam Pollard included Linwood in their 4 part series American Roots Music. The documentary was aired nationwide on PBS. He still conducts in depth interviews with pioneer and current artists and is an aid record collector with thousands of recordings dating back to the 20’s.

The Interview

How and when did you get started in the radio hosting business?

Linwood Heath:I started in radio in the mid 60's when Philly announcer Louise Williams, who managed a group I was singing with, invited me to do internship at her station. Just putting on records and opening mail.

I know that you're primarily vested in the vintage traditional gospel from the Golden Era. How did you get interested in that particular spectrum of gospel music?

Linwood Heath:I was interested in the traditional music because that's what was popular at that time and the music she played, especially quartets. Also it gave me an opportunity to meet and make friends with the artists from the golden era.

How have you noticed the gospel industry change since your beginnings?

Linwood Heath:The industry has changed greatly since I became involved. Some good, as the artists are more aware of the business aspect of their ministry. On the other side, whereas there was a time when the concert-goer was able to shake hands with the artist and perhaps get an autograph.Today the concerts are so well attended that the artist can't reach out to the audience, and afterwards they're gone. Maybe if you attend their seminary, you'll get a chance to meet them.

Your playlist consists of songs not normally heard on many major black gospel stations from artists such as The Caravans, The Ward Singers, and The Blind Boys of Alabama. Do you have any speculation as to why these other radio stations don't have a playlist as varied as yours?

Linwood Heath:It appears that marketing targets the demographics from 18-35 years old.Our station does not have to follow the path of other stations. We play gospel because we feel gospel. We're not controlled by someone in another part of the country. We play current music as well as the older gospel. My show on Sundays, Precious Memories, only features music from the 20's thru the 80's. However on Saturday mornings I do a mixture. Perhaps the other stations don't have the library that we have to reach back.

What steps do you think are necessary to keep and raise awareness about Golden Era Gospel?

Linwood Heath:It would be nice if those 24hr stations would devote at least an hour to the golden era of gospel because there is a market.

Lately, we've been hearing a lot about H.R. 848 and how it is supposed to be a danger to black owned stations nationwide. What do you know about the bill and what ramifications do you believe it will have on black radio if it is passed?

Linwood Heath:I don't personally think that bill H.R. 848 will go through, it's too complicated. We already fill out BMI and ASCAP forms, what more do they want? If we're not careful we'll end up as we did back in the 40's with just church broadcasts.

In addition to radio announcing, I know that you have extended onto the internet with a YouTube page containing some pretty rare and cool stuff. Can you tell about what you've been up to?

Linwood Heath:I started on youtube because I'm selling my albums on ebay and wanted to share some rare recordings and videos with others. I find it brings back some memories to some and awareness to those who perhaps weren't aware of these recordings. it's been a real blessing to me but it can be time consuming and that I don't have much of anymore.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Golden Era Gospel In the Lone Star State

By: Joseph Middleton

It just wouldn't be right for me as a Texan to discuss Golden Era Gospel without focusing on the aspects of it as it relates to Texas! Modern gospel artists from Texas aren't hard to find. Dallas is known best for Kirk Franklin, and Austin for Chester D.T. Baldwin. Houston on the other hand seems to be where most of the Texas based, well known modern gospel artists are. Houston has Yolanda Adams, Endurance, Kathy Taylor, Soulfruit, Carolyn Traylor, Kim Burrell, Gary Mayes, James Fortune, Yunek, Shawn McLemore and Shei Atkins just to name a few. When Golden Era Gospel is discussed, the cities of Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia are heavily mentioned because they were the places where the major Golden Era artists were based. Chicago is regarded as the birthplace of gospel music and was home to Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, Roberta Martin, Robert Anderson, The Highway QCs, Albertina Walker and James Cleveland among others. Detroit was home to The Meditation Singers, Rev. Charles Nicks, The Voices of Tabernacle, and Dr. Mattie Moss-Clark, while Philadelphia had The Ward Singers, The Angelic Gospel Singers, and The Dixie Hummingbirds. But what about that big state down south called Texas? What did it contribute to the Golden Era? Well, it contributed much!

For starters, one of the founding fathers of gospel blues was born in Texas. Sources show that Blind Willie Johnson was born in 1897 in Independence, an unincorporated town which is located about 85 miles northwest of Houston, or in 1902 in Marlin, which is close to Waco. Johnson lived in Hearne and Temple during his lifetime, and died in 1947 in Beaumont.

Arizona Dranes was born in 1891 (or 1905 depending on your source) in Sherman, which is north of Dallas. Dranes was a blind pianist and singer who made her first recordings in the late 1920s. Her style of piano playing and singing was said to have been influential to Roberta Martin and Clara Ward. While she moved to Chicago and joined the gospel scene there, Texas can still claim her as our own.

Around 1926-27, Roy Crain formed a quartet with some teenagers from his church in Trinity, about 90 miles north of Houston and sang in a jubilee style. Meanwhile, in September 1929, a quartet was formed at New Pleasant Green Baptist Church, located at 1608 Andrews Street in Houston by Walter Lee La Beaux. La Beaux named the group the New Pleasant Green Singers. Crain left the quartet in Trinity in the early 1930s and moved to Houston. Crain joined the New Pleasant Green Singers under the condition that the group's name be changed to The Soul Stirrers upon his arrival. Thus, The Soul Stirrers were born in the Fourth Ward of Houston, Texas, starting a legacy that continues some 80 years later. Quartets proved to be quite popular in those days, especially in the South. So it's no surprise that more quartets were founded in Texas as time progressed, such as the Pilgrim Travelers, who were founded in Houston in 1936 and were based in Houston until they moved to Los Angeles, California in 1942.

In 1951, a quartet based in Austin led by A.C. Littlefield named The Bells of Joy released a hit song titled "Let's Talk About Jesus". "Let's Talk About Jesus" reached into the top 10 listings on the Billboard R&B Charts and sold over 1 million copies. Country legend and fellow Texan Willie Nelson, called the Bells of Joy "the best Gospel group going."

During the 1940s, 50s and 60s, a tenor named Wilmer "Little Axe" Broadnax sang with a number of quartets including the Fairfield Four, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, The Golden Echoes, The Southern Gospel Singers, and The Spirit of Memphis. Broadnax is regarded as one of the best tenors to ever grace the Golden Era quartets, and was Houston born. Even more interesting is that upon Broadnax's death in 1994, it was revealed that Broadnax was anatomically female.

Texas was also the birthplace of Sister Jessie Mae Renfro (Sapp). Renfro was born in Waxahachie, which is located south of Dallas. Her most popular song was "I Must Tell Jesus", which was recorded in November of 1952. Renfro recorded for Peacock Records in the 1950s and for the Delden label in the 1960s. More Texas born Golden Era Gospel singers include one singer well known for being associated with Chicago, Jessy Dixon. Dixon was born in San Antonio. Willie Neal Johnson, founder of the Gospel Keynotes was born in Tyler. The legendary soprano, Sara Jordan Powell of Houston got her start with The Sallie Martin Singers in 1961, and Houston was also the birthplace of the late Billy Preston, who played the organ and piano on the recordings of James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson, Cassietta George, Bessie Griffin and Doris Akers in the 1960s.

Peacock Records was Don Robey's legendary label and was based in Fifth Ward in Houston. Peacock was founded in 1949 by Robey and along with the Duke subsidiary label was home to many gospel artists in the 1950s through the 1970s including Inez Andrews, The Sensational Nightingales, The O'Neal Twins, The Highway QCs, The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Rev. Cleophus Robinson, and The Pilgrim Jubilees. While Duke was shut down in 1957 and Peacock was bought out by ABC Records in 1973, the Peacock/Duke Records building still stands today at 2809 Erastus Street, and now houses the Charity Baptist Church Educational Building.

Houston was also home to The Music Hall, which was built in 1937 and demolished in 1998. The Music Hall hosted many packed gospel programs which drew audience members from hundreds of miles around. It was the venue where The Roberta Martin Singers first introduced their then newest member, baritone Archie Dennis in 1958, and was the place where The Mighty Clouds of Joy recorded their "Live At the Music Hall" LP on the Peacock label in 1967. Click here to listen to a song from that album.

So as you can see, Texas is rich with Golden Era Gospel history. Chicago may be the birthplace of the gospel sound, but the sound resonated from Illinois and deep into Texas, deep into the Piney Woods of East Texas, deep into the Bayou City of Houston, and even the Hill Country region.

The Gospel Discography 1943-1970
Uncloudy Days, The Gospel Music Encyclopedia
We'll Understand It Better By and By
Texas Blues & Gospel

See these links for more information
Postcards From Texas: R&B Royalty: Houston's Own Don Robey (Peacock Records)
Peacock Records Discography
Soul Stirrers History
The Bells of Joy

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

R.I.P. Lucille Barbee

The Golden Era Gospel Blog received word earlier today that Sister Lucille Barbee of Nashville, TN has passed on. It was further verified on the obitiuaries page of "The Tennessean", which can be found here:
Lucille Barbee's Obituary

Sister Barbee passed away on September 21, 2009. Sister Barbee made her first recordings in 1952 as a solo artist and began recording with Rev. Morgan Babb and the Radio Four in 1953. Sister Barbee continued to record into the 1960s with labels such as Nashboro, Tennessee, and Republic. After her recording career, Sister was a DJ with WVOL-AM in Nashville. Most recently, she hosted the "Lucille Barbee and the Gospel Train Program" on Sunday mornings.

In 2009, we have seen that a lot of the old soldiers who toiled up and down the gospel highway during the golden era are going on home. This year alone, singers such as Madame Marie Knight, Eugene Smith (The Roberta Martin Singers), Mildred Howard (The Gospel Harmonettes), and historian Horace Clarence Boyer (The Boyer Brothers) have gone on to their rest. Many of them are only getting the recognition they rightly deserved only in death. For those traiblazers who are still with us today, let us try to honor them while they are still here. As The Consolers said in the 1950s, "give me my flowers while I yet live." So, lets give them their flowers while they yet live.

Here is a video presentation I posted of a recording of Sister Barbee singing with the Radio Four dating from 1960.
Sister Lucille Barbee and the Radio Four, "Let The Church Roll On" (1960)

Here is information regarding the service for Sister Barbee.
Family visitation Saturday, September 26, 2009 from 10 a.m. - 11 a.m., Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, 2448 Herman St., funeral to follow with Minister LaSundra Jones officiating; Pastor Tina Reed, Eulogist; Pastor Percy J. Clark, Pastor. Interment Greenwood "Main" Cemetery. HENRY LOUIS SMITH FUNERAL DIRECTORS, 1503 Buchanan St., (615) 244-5044; Henry L. Smith and Edward C. Hatch, Directors.
You may leave condolences at her online obituary by clicking HERE.

Welcome to the Golden Era Gospel Blog


Welcome to the Golden Era Gospel Blog. If you've found yourself here, you probably have an interest in black gospel music from the time period known as the Golden Era, which is roughly 1945-1965. This period produced many of the most hard working, charismatic, showstopping singers and groups in the genre including The Soul Stirrers, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Madame Edna Gallmon Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward and the Ward Singers, James Cleveland, The Caravans, The Roberta Martin Singers, Professor Alex Bradford, and The Davis Sisters. That's just a small list of the singers and groups from that era. The intention of this blog is to educate people on this often neglected subject. In the near future, I hope to have interviews, news, videos, and other pertinent information posted to this blog.
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