Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Search for Blind Willie Johnson and the Texas Gospel

Texas is largely forgotten when it comes to discussing gospel, while Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia get most of the honors. As a born and bred Texan, it pleases me to see someone taking focus on Texas gospel.

There is a kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary by Shane Ford called "The Search for Blind Willie Johnson and the Texas Gospel." Those of you in the know already know that Texas is no slouch when it comes to gospel greats. Texas was where the Soul Stirrers were founded, and the home and birthplace of legends such as Sister Jessie Mae Renfro, Arizona Dranes and Jessy Dixon just to name a few.

The kickstarter campaign page states, "The goal of this documentary will be to explore the social and cultural significance of gospel music within the state of Texas. Presented from the view of historians, professors, and the current participants in the churches, we will seek to flesh out the idea of what gospel music has meant to Texas and the world of music in general."

For more information, see the following link:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Repost: A Golden Era Easter Playlist

By: Joseph Middleton

Originally posted March 27, 2010

Easter is almost upon us. Come Resurrection Sunday, choir stands across the world will be filled with choirs and praise teams singing familiar songs such as “He Decided to Die (He Would Not Come Down From the Cross)” and and “For God So Loved the World”. For those who want to hear something from the Golden Era for Easter, here are a few songs that should satisfy the ears and the spirit.

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

Right at the end of the Golden Era, Rev. James Cleveland recorded this song with the Walter Arties Chorale. The arrangement is jazzy with cues taken from “Cristo Redentor”, and is less bluesy than other popular gospel recordings from the same time. The modern arrangement takes no luster away from this gem. The choir provides haunting, modulating ooohs throughout the song as James mournfully tells the story. This song has almost meditative qualities to it, and is an interesting departure from the usual Resurrection Sunday repertoire.

(Available from Savoy/Malaco on the “James Cleveland Sings with the World’s Greatest Choirs, 20th Anniversary” CD)

2. "The Crucifixion" (1954) The Caravans

During their second recording session with the States label, The Caravans sang of the Crucifixion. On lead, we have the group leader, Albertina Walker as solemnly, yet with the fervor of a minister with her trademark runs, tells the familiar story. On the piano, we have a young James Cleveland, in the background we have Cassietta George, Iris Humble, Gloria Griffin, and Johneron Davis with their sweet, heavenly background vocals.

(Not available on CD. Check eBay for availability of this recording.)

3. "The Crucifixion" (1957) The Roberta Martin Singers

With an intro featuring a throbbing organ being played by Little Lucy Smith Collier, the late, great Eugene Smith sings/narrates the Crucifixion in this recording taken from the Martin Singers’ first recording session with Savoy. In the background, Roberta Martin, Gloria Griffin, Delois Barrett Campbell, Little Lucy Smith Collier, Norsalus McKissick and Romance Watson support Smith’s lead with a cushioning cloud of hums, ooohs, and the occasional few words. Roberta glides over the piano keys and glides through the background with her unmistakable contralto accenting the ends of the vocalizations. Listen as the drummer provides sound effects for the nails being driven and for the sting of death in this quality recording done as only “Bert’s” group would have it done.

(No longer available on CD from Savoy/Malaco. Check eBay for the occasional copy. Album titled on CD as “Twelve Inspirational Songs” and on LP as “Spirituals”.)

4. "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power" (1962) The Caravans

On this go-round, the girls (Albertina Walker, Shirley Caesar, Delores Washington, Cassietta George and Johneron Davis) sing this now familiar Andrae Crouch tune. Albertina provides the lead vocals as James Herndon’s skilled hands tear up the ivories and an uncredited organist provides twirling and booming accompaniment. Toward the end of the song, Cassietta chimes in to complement Albertina, putting the icing on the cake.

(Available from Savoy/Malaco on the “Best of the Caravans” CD.)

5. "No Greater Love" (1960) Rev. James Cleveland and the Voices of Tabernacle

Not to be confused with Keith Pringle’s 1988 hit of the same name, James Cleveland and Louise McCord lead the Voices of Tabernacle in this song taken from the early days of James Cleveland’s solo career. The song is rather simple and easy to remember. For those who are looking for a simple song for their choir or praise team to sing on Resurrection Sunday, this is a good candidate.

(Available on various vintage gospel compilation CDs. Check iTunes and other online music outlets.)

6. "He's Alive Today" (1965) The Caravans

We’re taking yet another jaunt with The Caravans, this time it’s a little different. Albertina has stepped aside and let one of the other group members lead and take the limelight. Even though the lineup is almost the same as the 1962 lineup for “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power”, Johneron Davis has been replaced by the late Josephine Howard (mother of r&b songstress Miki Howard). Josephine takes a commanding, authoritative lead and lets the listener know that He is indeed alive! Josephine’s squalls will surely take you in. You may end up putting this one on repeat.

(Not available on CD. Check eBay for the VeeJay LP containing this song titled “Let’s Break Bread Together”.)

7. "Calvary" (1967) Mahalia Jackson

No Golden Era playlist is complete without an entry from Mahalia Jackson. Recorded live in concert at the New York City Philharmonic Hall on March 26, 1967, Mahalia’s pianist Eddie Robinson and organist Charles Clency’s sparse musical accompaniment set a sobering scene that silences the performance hall as Mahalia sings. Compared to James Cleveland’s “Christ the Redeemer” from the previous year, this song sounds more traditional, and sounds typical of most of Mahalia’s later work.

(Available on Disc 1 of the Mahalia Jackson CD compilation tited “Gospels, Spirituals, and Hymns”.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nominate The Golden Era Gospel Blog for the 2011 Black Weblog Awards!

On April 18, 2011, nominations began for the 2011 Black Weblog Awards. The Black Weblog Awards started in 2005 as a way to honor and showcase Black bloggers and their blogs, both of which have generally been overlooked by mainstream Internet awards. Nominations will close on May 7, 2011. Finalists will be announced on May 16, 2011, and voting for finalists will end on June 17, 2011. The winners will be announced and awards will be handed out LIVE in Los Angeles on July 9, 2011 at the Black Weblog Awards Ceremony during the second day of the Blogging While Brown Conference.

Of the 30 plus categories listed, I'm certain that my blog is eligible for nomination in the following five categories. Categories in italics are particularly stressed.

1. Best Culture Blog

This category is for blogs which analyze and discuss Black culture and/or the African diaspora with respect to art, dance, Black history, music, and other related content.

2. Best Faith-Based Blog (This blog was a finalist in this category in 2010)

This category is for blogs which feature unique religious and spiritual content from any religion or faith.

3. Best Music Blog

This category is for blogs that focus on music; blogs can provide downloadable mp3s, and may cover more than one genre of music. The majority of the blog should be about music, not satire on pop culture.

4. Blog to Watch

This category is for that great blog that not everyone knows about…but should! It’s undiscovered. It’s a best kept secret. (Although it won’t be anymore if they win this award!)

A reader notified me that they nominated this blog for Best Writing in a Blog in 2010. If you believe the material on this blog is well written based on the overall posts, feel free to nominate it in this category.

5. Best Writing in a Blog

This category is for blogs which have exceptional writing.

A blog can be nominated in more than one category, so you can nominate this blog in just one, or all five of the categories listed above. You can nominate this blog by clicking on the 2011 Black Weblog Awards icon in the upper right hand corner of this page, or by clicking on this link:
2011 Black Weblog Awards Nomination Form

It will ask you for the URL of the blog you wish to nominate, so remember, this blog's URL is

So, why not take a few minutes and help out by nominating this blog?


Sunday, April 17, 2011

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

By: Joseph Middleton

Originally posted December 15, 2009. I felt a repost was appropriate given the upcoming Easter celebrations.

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)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Texas recognizes and celebrates Peacock Records

By: Joseph Middleton

A crowd gathered in front of the Louis Robey Professional Building on Lyons Avenue in Houston's Fifth Ward on April 16 for the unveiling of a marker honoring Don Robey and his Peacock label. The program began promptly at noon with a welcome and introduction of guests by James H. Ford Jr., a storyteller and English professor at Houston Community College who was one of the forces behind making today's dedication a reality. Speakers included Music Historian Dr. Roger Wood, also from Houston Community College, former Peacock recording artist Texas Johnny Brown, Rap-A-Lot records founder J. Prince, and Debra Blacklock-Sloan of the Harris County Historical Commission. A host of Don Robey's relatives were on hand including his daughter, Dr. DonaLeah Robey Fields and his youngest sister. Proclamations and Resolutions were presented from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst. Special attendees were recognized, including Dr. Carlos Handy, Department Head Chair of the Physics department at Texas Southern University. Dr. Handy is the nephew of W.C. Handy, known as the "father of blues."

After the speakers had spoken and the special guests were recognized, it was time to unveil the marker. With Don Robey's descendants and relatives standing nearby, the cover was taken off and the marker was revealed to the crowd, culminating a project decades in the making honoring one of Houston's native sons who made his mark on gospel, r&b and blues music.

Malaco Records destroyed by tornado

Sad news from Mississippi. The historic and internationally acclaimed Malaco Records in Jackson, Mississippi was destroyed by a tornado which ravaged the area on Friday, April 15. Two of the three buildings on the compound were destroyed. Just 3 years ago, Malaco was honored with a marker from the state of Mississippi, recognizing the 49 year old company as a landmark on the Mississippi Blues Trail.

In 1986, Malaco purchased the gospel division of Savoy Records, which during the 40s through the 80s was the home of many Golden Era Gospel artists such as Dorothy Love Coates, James Cleveland, the Roberta Martin Singers, the Caravans, and the Davis Sisters just to name a few.

You can read more at this link:

Here is video of the tornado responsible for the destruction.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happy Birthday to Inez Andrews!

The Golden Era Gospel Blog is wishing gospel pioneer Inez Andrews a happy and blessed 82nd birthday!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Peacock Records Historical Marker Dedication in Houston, Saturday, April 16

At noon on Saturday, April 16, 2011, the Harris County Historical Commission will dedicate a Texas State Historical Marker for the Peacock Record Label at 4120 Lyons Ave. at Benson Street. For more information, contact James Ford at (713) 301-9721,

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pilgrim Baptist Church Rebuild set for 2012 Finish

Thanks to Bob Marovich of the Black Gospel Blog for posting this.
From the Associated Press

CHICAGO — The on-again, off-again reconstruction of a landmark Chicago church known as the birthplace of gospel music is on again.

Church leaders have announced work to rebuild the fire-ravaged Pilgrim Baptist Church will begin in earnest this summer.

A 2006 fire ignited by workers repairing the roof devastated the 120-year-old structure designed by famed architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan.

Officials announced a $37 million rebuilding plan in 2008, but nothing came of it. Pastor Tyrone Jordan says a first construction phase set for a 2012 finish will "prove to the world" the church will rebuild.

The four-phase project is expected to cost at least $30 million.

Mahalia Jackson, Sallie Martin, the Rev. James Cleveland, and the Staples Singers are among those who have sung at the church.
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