Thursday, December 31, 2009

In Memoriam, A Tribute to Those We Lost in 2009

Every year, the earthly roll of golden era gospel singers grows a little shorter as they go on to receive their heavenly reward. To honor their memory, here's a list of those golden era gospel artists who have gone on this year to sing with the heavenly choir. If I have forgotten anyone, please leave me a note in the comments section.

Claude Jeter (The Swan Silvertones)

Hazel Henderson

Willa Mae Dorsey

Bishop Charles Edward Cook (Mighty Gospel Giants)

Ethel Holloway (solo artist, Jessy Dixon Singers, Thompson Community Singers, Ethel Holloway Singers)

Rev. Leroy Taylor (The Soul Stirrers, Christland Singers)

Margaret Aikens-Jenkins

Shirley Joiner (Southeast Inspirational Choir)

Rev. Timothy Wright
(I know that Rev. Wright and Ms. Joiner weren't golden era artists, but because of their influence in the traditional gospel genre, I believe they both merit mention.)

Vera Jean Eskridge Jenkins (The Loving Sisters)

Eugene Smith (The Roberta Martin Singers)

Dr. Horace Clarence Boyer (noted gospel music historian and member of The Boyer Brothers)

Delores "Sugar" Poindexter

Marie Knight (partner with Sister Rosetta Tharpe)

Alexander "Pete" Dixon (St. Paul's Echoes of Eden)

Elder Norvell Woolfork (Clara Ward Singers)

Sister Lucille Barbee

Frances Steadman (Mary Johnson Davis Gospel Singers, Clara Ward Specials, Clara Ward Singers, The Stars of Faith)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

O Johneron Davis, Where Art Thou?

By: Joseph Middleton

Just about everyone who has an interest in Golden Era Gospel knows about Albertina, Shirley, Bessie, Cassietta, Delores, Dorothy and James (Cleveland and Herndon) as some of the best known members of The Caravans. Yet, there's one member that's rarely talked about and little is known about her. Her name was Johneron Davis.

From 1953 to 1962, Davis was a member of The Caravans. Davis sang a distinctive soprano register which could easily be picked out in the background vocals. To my knowledge, Davis only led or co-led two songs while recording with The Caravans. Those songs were "In His Name" which was recorded in 1960, and "Remember Me" from her last recording session with the group 1962 in which she duets with Albertina Walker as they sing the "Father, I stretch my hands to thee" portion of the song. Despite her nine years with the group, little is known about Davis such as where and when she was born, what other groups (if any) she sang with, how she became a member of the group, and her life after she left the group in 1962. This post is probably more of a plea than anything else, but I would like some help in finding out about Davis's life. I'll do my part, but I'll need some help. If you have any information about her, please contact me by leaving a message in the comments section of this post.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The bridge between James Cleveland's "Christ the Redeemer" and Donald Byrd's "Cristo Redentor"?

By: Joseph Middleton

The late great Rev. James Cleveland was no stranger when it came to combining elements from other genres of music with gospel. As early as 1959, Rev. Cleveland was transforming secular hits into church friendly compositions when he turned Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Love Her So" into "Hallelujah I Love Him So." His most popular gospelization may have been when he turned Gladys Knight's "You're The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me" into "Jesus Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me" for his 1975 double LP of the same title with the Charles Fold Singers.

While Rev. Cleveland drew upon much inspiration from the R&B and pop singers of the day, he may have also drawn inspiration from the world of jazz. In the early 1960s, legendary jazz pianist and composer Duke Pearson arranged a song titled "Cristo Redentor." As the story goes, Pearson saw the famous Cristo Redentor statue in Rio de Janeiro during a trip to Brazil with Nancy Wilson while he was Wilson's accompanist, and was inspired to compose the song. Along with "Cristo Redentor," Pearson arranged three more tracks for jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd's album titled "A New Perspective." "A New Perspective" was released in 1963 for Blue Note records and "Cristo Redentor" became a jazz hit. "Cristo Redentor" featured Byrd on trumpet, Herbie Hancock on piano, Hank Mobley on tenor sax, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Donald Best on vibraphone, Butch Warren on bass, Lex Humphries on drums, a gospel choir providing background vocals directed by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, and the sound engineering was done by Rudy Van Gelder.

Some of you may be thinking to yourself "Rudy Van Gelder? That name sounds familiar." If it does, it's probably because he was the sound engineer for many of Savoy's late 50's material produced by Ozzie Cadena. Cadena and Van Gelder's work with Savoy gospel artists can be heard on mid to late 50's material by artists such as The Davis Sisters, The Caravans, The Roberta Martin Singers and The Famous Ward Singers. While that may not have much to do with the works in question from 1963 and 1966, it's still interesting to note from a gospel music historian's standpoint.

In 1966, Rev. James Cleveland, just 6-7 years into his solo career, recorded a project with The Walter Arties Chorale. One of the songs on the LP was "Christ the Redeemer," which is what "Cristo Redentor" translates to from Portuguese into English. Cleveland utilized the Walter Arties Chorale to provide a vocal sound that sounds similar to the Perkinson directed choir on "Cristo Redentor." When you listen to Cleveland's other work from the same era, "Christ the Redeemer" sounds like a serious departure from the familiar James Cleveland sound typical of his 50s and 60s work. This similar to the departure many jazz artists of the day were making as they experimented with new sounds in lieu of traditional arrangements.

Now, I encourage you, the informed listener to take a few minutes and listen to both compositions and come to your own conclusion(s).

Donald Byrd- "Cristo Redentor" (1963)

Rev. James Cleveland and the Walter Arties Chorale- "Christ the Redeemer" (1966)
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