I neglected to mention that January 22nd would also have been the birthday of another Golden Era Gospel figure, the Rev. C.L. Franklin. Rev. Franklin was one of the most popular preachers of his day. He was pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, and the father of Aretha Franklin. Rev. Franklin would tour the country and preach in different cities, having groups such as the Roberta Martin Singers or the Clara Ward Singers to minister through song while he would deliver the sermon.
The gospel and r&b powerhouse Samuel Cook (aka: Sam Cooke) would have celebrated his 80th birthday today. One can't help but wonder what would music be like had he lived. Would he have found continued success in the 70s and 80s as his friend Bobby Womack did? Or would he have faded away into obscurity, only to come out for the occasional PBS sponsored oldies concert? We'll never know. However, we can say for certain that his legacy lives on today. "You Send Me", "Nearer My God to Thee", "Wonderful", and "A Change Is Gonna Come" are recordings which are still celebrated today. On modern radio, you'll hear r&b crooners and gospel singers sneak a Sam Cooke inspired run (sometimes unfortunately "enhanced" by autotune) into their songs. That alone is proof that Sam's influence is still resonating today.
Arthur Lee "Bob" Bailey, quartet pioneer, died January 8, 2011 in Spartanburg, SC at the age of 96 at the Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. Beatty was inducted into the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2008, and sang with groups such as the Heavenly Gospel Singers, the Violinaires, the Trumpets of Joy, and the Four Gospel Knights.
The Roberta Martin Singers, circa 1949. Rear L-R: Eugene Smith, Bessie Folk, Delois Barrett Campbell, Norsalus McKissick. Front and center: Roberta Martin
By: Joseph Middleton
Forty-two years ago this month, the Golden Era Gospel community lost a pillar. Roberta Evelyn Winston Martin Austin (commonly known as Roberta Martin), died at Mercy Hospital in Chicago on the morning Monday, January 13, 1969 after a long battle with cancer, just one month shy of her 62nd birthday. That's young by today's standards. Ms. Martin was a quadruple threat in the gospel world as she served in the capacity of singer, songwriter, arranger and accompanist. In addition, Ms. Martin was also a savvy businesswoman, operating the Roberta Martin Music Studio. Ms. Martin was such a trailblazing figure that on the cold and snowy Sunday evening when her funeral was held at Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church on the then newly renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in Chicago, at least 50,000 people from all across the nation and world came to pay their respects to the grand lady of gospel. Now, 42 years later, Ms. Martin seems to be all but forgotten and overshadowed by contemporaries like Mahalia Jackson. A faithful few still listen to her songs, and even today, choirs sing some of the 200+ songs composed by her, likely not knowing who the writer was, or how large an impact the writer had on gospel music, an impact which still resonates today.
"What impact?" you may say. Well, let's take a look at the current trend of Praise and Worship teams. Most teams consist of four to nine vocalists total, and have at least two vocalists singing each part (2 altos, 2 tenors, 2 sopranos) instead of simply singing in unison, allowing each part to be easily identified by the listener. In the early 1930s, Roberta Martin was one of the first people to assemble a mixed ensemble to sing gospel music with vocalists arranged in that fashion. During their heyday, the Roberta Martin Singers would have 2 tenors , 2 altos and 2 sopranos occasionally adding a bass/baritone register male, or adding or removing an extra singer from the tenor, alto or soprano section. Today, such arrangements are commonplace among Praise and Worship groups and small mixed ensembles, but it wasn't until Roberta Martin came along that such groups gained widespread acceptance and popularity in the church.
Here are a few of my favorite Roberta Martin led songs, in no particular order (though I am quite partial to #8 and #4 on my personal playlist). They encompass nearly her entire recording career, from the jubilee inspired sound of the 40s, to the height of the Golden Era sound of the 50s, to the almost contemporary sounds that would characterize gospel music from the late 60s and early 70s.
Sullivan Pugh, the guitar playing half of the husband and wife gospel duo, the Consolers, died December 30, 2010 at his home in Miami at the age of 85. During the 1950s and 60s, Sullivan and his wife, Iola, as the Consolers reached their height of popularity with songs such as "Give Me My Flowers", "Waiting for My Child", and "May the Work I've Done Speak for Me." Their career as a duo stretched from 1953 until Iola's death in 1994. During their career, the Consolers recorded for the Glory and DeLuxe record labels, Nashboro Records, Savoy/Malaco Records, and appeared at the 1972 Newport Jazz Festival. In 2002, Sullivan and Iola (posthumously) were awarded with the Florida Folk Heritage Award. Sullivan continued to sing into his later years, even making an appearance on Malaco's "Gospel Legends" DVD in 2004. Sullivan was also actively involved in The Consolers Progressive Charity Club, an organization which benefited the needy.
There will be two viewings and a funeral service for Mr. Pugh. The information is as follows.
Brother Sullivan S. Pugh, 85, gospel recording artist best known for such hits as “May The Work I’ve Done,” “Give Me My Flowers,” “Waiting For My Child” and “Somewhere Around Gods Throne,” died Dec. 30, 2010, at home surrounded by his wife and family.
Services: Abundant Favor Mortuary, Inc. 115 E. 30th St., Bradenton
First viewing: 5-9 p.m. Jan. 6 at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, 6316 S.W. 59th Place, South Miami
Second viewing: 5-9 p.m. Jan. 7 , United Christian Fellowship, 2310 N.W. 58th Street, Miami
Those of you who know your gospel music history know that Birmingham is no slouch when it comes to gospel music. Many groups call Birmingham home. It was in Birmingham where Inez Andrews was born and where Dorothy Love Coates called home. Nearby Bessemer was also the birthplace of Professor Alex Bradford. With historic names such as those powerhouses of the Golden Era of Gospel, it's not surprise that Birmingham, AL is going to receive a Gospel Music Center and Museum. Frankly, I don't know why it wasn't done earlier!