Friday, April 30, 2010

A Chicago Golden Era Gospel Tour!

By: Joseph Middleton

In early April 2010, I was blessed with a trip to Chicago. While there, I knew I just had to go to some of the old landmarks (pun intended) of Golden Era Gospel. After all, Chicago is where traditional black gospel music got its start, and continues to be a hotbed for gospel artists today. I was so glad when Chicago based Gospel Historian, Bob Marovich of The Black Gospel Blog took me and my family on a great tour of Chicago's gospel landmarks, as well as other prominent landmarks such as the site of Chess Records, Greektown and Harpo Studios just to name a few. Here are a few photos from Bob's superb gospel tour!

Note: If you are having problems viewing the photos as-is, please click on them to get a better view.

This is a sad sight to behold, the gutted skeleton of the fire ravaged Pilgrim Baptist Church. For decades, Thomas A. Dorsey was the musical director at this church.

This is the home in which Roberta Martin lived during the 1940s. It was in this house that she married Rev. James Austin. Rev. Austin was also the father of Lucy Matthews Collier, aka: Little Lucy Smith. Lucy joined The Roberta Martin Singers in 1949 and served not only as a soprano vocalist, but as an organist on most of their recordings from 1949 to 1962, and took over Roberta's duties as pianist and musical director from 1963 to 1970 (though Lucy was playing the piano in recording sessions as early as 1959).

This was Roberta Martin's home located in Hyde Park. She lived there from the 1950s until her death in 1969. It was (and still is) a grand home.

The First Church of Deliverance is particularly important for a few reasons. In the 1930s, it was the first church to introduce the now ubiquitous Hammond B3 organ to gospel music, and in 1934 became the second black church to have a radio broadcast, which still airs to this day.

Mt. Pisgah was where Roberta Martin served as the musical director. After her death, Lucy Collier and Willie Webb took over the position. Mt. Pisgah was also where Rev. James Cleveland recorded an album in 1981 with the Chicago GWMA Mass Choir, and reunited members of The Caravans and The Roberta Martin Singers to record a few tracks and go down "old school boulevard".

This is Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, where many gospel artists held programs. And right next door is another building of importance, which you'll see in the photo below.

If Rev. Stanley Keeble gets his wish, later this year, this building will serve as the home of the Chicago Gospel Museum

Once again, THANK YOU Bob Marovich for the tour!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Birthday to the late gospel greats, Clara Ward and Eugene Smith!

April 21st and April 22nd would have been the birthdays of Clara Ward of the Ward Singers and Eugene Smith of the Roberta Martin Singers. Clara Ward, who died in 1973 would have turned 86 on the 21st and Eugene Smith, who died slightly less than a year ago would have turned 89 on the 22nd.

So why not honor their memories by listening to a song featuring them? Here's a few videos featuring either Clara Ward or Eugene Smith.

1. Faith Moves Mountains- The Clara Ward Singers

2. Surely God is Able- The Clara Ward Singers

3. The Clara Ward Singers on The Flip Wilson Show

4. Sealed Til' The Day of Redemption- Eugene Smith with the Roberta Martin Singers

5. Since He Lightened My Heavy Load- Eugene Smith with the Roberta Martin Singers

6. Walk in Jerusalem- Eugene Smith with the Roberta Martin Singers

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An update on "O Johneron Davis, Where Art Thou?"

You may recall my blog post on December 20, 2009 requesting information on Johneron Davis, a former member of The Caravans who unfortunately does not have much info available about her or her life. Since December 20, I have spoken with two members of The Caravans and I was able to learn a small bit of useful information. I learned that she passed away sometime in the 1970s from cancer at a relatively young age. I wasn't able to learn any more information besides that.

Well, part of my question has been answered. I'm still seeking more information such as exact birth and death dates, where she lived, if she had a family and what other groups (if any) she sang with. If you can help out with additional information, please let me know in the comments section of this posting.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Op-Ed: It's Always a Good Day to Sing a "Good Old" Gospel Song!

By: Joseph Middleton

As some of you may know, on Black Entertainment Television (BET), there's a program airing its third season titled "Sunday Best". The gospel duo Mary Mary and solo artist Donnie McClurkin are the judges on this gospel counterpart to Fox's "American Idol". It seems like BET is proving "The Boondocks" correct in their observation that BET is taking old reality shows from five years ago and making them over. However, that particular topic is for discussion on another day, on another blog.

I'm going to cut over straight to the issue that's relevant to THIS blog. On the episode filmed in Detroit, which originally aired on Sunday, April 11, 2010, one person auditioned for the judges by singing the old song, "I Know I've Been Changed". Tina Campbell of Mary Mary delivered a one-liner in response, stating, “DEFINITELY take that to the Black History Program.”

While I realize the show is all about competition and choosing the person that best exhibits broad marketability and high profitability for the record company, both the steadfast advocate of the traditional gospel sound which exists and in me, AND the Gospel Music Historian in me had to shake my head in response to Tina Campbell's words. That is NOT the type of message that should be put forth. Whether people like it or not, songs such as those have a rightly deserved place within gospel music. Despite their age, old songs still touch the hearts and souls of a great number of parishioners and listeners everywhere, young and old alike. Just as everyone isn't drawn to the old school sound, not everyone is drawn to the contemporary sounds of today, either. One also has to realize that gospel is not some monolithic, or homogeneous genre of music. It is QUITE diverse! Gospel contains many sub-genres which appeal to different people. For example, mass choirs, quartets, neo-soul influenced groups and small mixed vocal ensembles are all lumped into the gospel category for simplicity's sake, but they are all sub-genres within gospel music.

There are those who are still getting Saved off of those old songs, and that's probably one of the most important things to recognize. Upon that realization, I don't believe it's prudent to actually restrict OR to even suggest restricting such songs to only be trotted out for the annual "Black History Program." There are people who enjoy and cherish those songs and wish to sing and hear them year-round. Dorothy Norwood's "Ride On King Jesus", Eugene Smith's "I Know The Lord Will Make a Way", Andrae Crouch's "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power" and James Cleveland's "Walk on By Faith" are all songs which are all at least 45 years old in age, but they are still being sung and recorded by current gospel artists. Just look at Vickie Winans and how she scored a hit in late 2009 and early 2010 with her rendition of Rev. W. Herbert Brewster's legendary song, "How I Got Over", some 59 years after it was first published.

What I'm saying is, don't just recognize these songs during Black History Month, that is if they even get recognized at all (and they don't at some churches). These good old, good news songs should be celebrated every day. After all, it's always a good time to give Praise!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Arrangements for Geraldine Gay Hambric of The Gay Sisters, Plus a Chicago Tribune Writeup

Here is some information regarding the funeral arrangements for Geraldine Gay Hambric.

Homegoing Information
Friday, April 16th at 7:00 pm - Musical Tribute
Saturday, April 17th at 10:00 am - Funeral Service

Prayer Center Church of God in Christ
526 East 67th Street
Chicago, Illiois 60637

Also, --->*HERE*<--- is an article from the Chicago Tribune about the life of Mrs. Hambric, which mentions a small but interesting Texas connection (you know I'm always trying to find Texas connections with Golden Era Gospel!)

Update on the Chicago Gospel Music Museum

By: Joseph Middleton

Well readers, I'm back home in H-town. I had a wonderful time in Chicago, seeing places where golden era gospel greats lived and flourished. I'll post about that trip at a later date. In the meanwhile, here's an update out of Bronzeville regarding Rev. Stanley Keeble's efforts to have a museum dedicated to the history of black gospel music up and operating by October 26, 2010.
Gospel museum: Collectors want to pay homage to gospel heritage

Note: Bob Marovich is not donating his collection to the museum. Don't know how that got in there, must have been wishful thinking by the writer at the Tribune. ;-)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Aretha Franklin picks Karen Clark-Sheard to play the role of Kitty Parham of the Clara Ward Singers in "Aretha: From These Roots"

Jawn Murray over at BV Buzz at AOL BlackVoices reports that Aretha Franklin has picked Karen Clark-Shead of The Clark Sisters fame to play golden era artist, Catherine "Kitty" Parham in "Aretha: From These Roots". Parham (pictured above) was a member of The Clara Ward singers from the early 1950s until she left the group along with Esther Ford, Frances Steadman, Henrietta Waddy and Marion Williams to form the Stars of Faith during the Summer of 1958. Kitty Parham died in Philadelphia, PA on June 27, 2003 at the age of 77.

To view the article on Black Voices, Click HERE

To see Kitty Parham in action with Marion Williams and the Stars of Faith, click HERE

R.I.P. Geraldine Gay Hambric

Dear readers, I am writing this post from Chicago, the birthplace of the traditional gospel sound, and the national headquarters for Golden Era Gospel, where artists such as Thomas A. Dorsey, James Cleveland, Robert Anderson, Albertina Walker and Roberta Martin developed and refined their style. I arrived on April 7th and I saw a few landmarks today and I'll cover that in a later post as I visit some more landmarks tomorrow. While it was great as a historian to see those few landmarks such as Mt. Pisgah, where Roberta Martin once served as Minister of Music, I just found out that one of the last human landmarks of vintage Chicago gospel passed away. Geraldine Gay Hambric, the last surviving member of The Gay Sisters died Tuesday, April 6, 2010. Bob Marovich has written an excellent writeup on Mrs. Hambric, and you can read it HERE.
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