Friday, May 6, 2011

Golden Era Gospel and "Mama"

By: Joseph Middleton

In the United States, Mother's Day is almost upon us. TV, radio, and the internet are filled with ads beckoning consumers to go out and buy gifts and flowers for their dear mother. Gospel music is not immune to this trend of acknowledging mother. In traditional gospel circles, it's not uncommon to hear songs with references to mom, mama, mother, or mama dear with songs like "I Can Still Hear Mama Praying", "I Can See Everyone's Mother But Mine", "Thank God for Mama" and "Mama Prayed for Me". During the Golden Era, mention of mother was frequently executed in gospel songs. Whether listening to the Caravans, the Soul Stirrers, the Bradford Singers, the Roberta Martin Singers, or the Mighty Clouds of Joy, you'd be bound to hear a reference to mother sooner or later.

Some gospel music historians regard this as a "dirty trick" used to rile up emotions among the congregation during a concert or a song when the congregational response is not up to par with the expectation of the singer. Dirty or not, the truth is that this tactic usually worked. Traditional African-American preachers of the extemporaneous style have been known to use this technique, as well. Even today you'll hear a closing line in a sermon that says something to the effect of "somebody here's got a mother waiting for them on the other side!", usually followed by shouting from the congregation.

In music, you can hear this technique in a great number of gospel songs both modern and from the Golden Era. For this short n' sweet entry, we'll focus on the latter. For example, Roberta Martin's composition, "God's Amazing Grace", begins with the words "I was young, but I recall singing songs was mother's joy." Further along in the song, the listener will find out that the narrator's mother is no longer on this earth with the line "Mother was so good to me." In Alex Bradford's "Too Close to Heaven", the singer states "I want to see my old mother again, hallelujah!" However, the most famous of the Golden Era Gospel songs to execute the theme of the mother who has passed away has to be "Leave You In the Hands of the Lord" by Archie Brownlee and the Blind Boys of Mississippi. In that song, the subject of the mother passing away makes up the backbone of the song.

This is an interesting subject and I am sure it could foster a lengthy discussion. However, I hope this little blurb will bring this tidbit of information to your attention. Listen to the songs I pointed out above. If you don't believe there are that many gospel songs dedicated to "mama", I dare you to turn on radio on Mother's Day and listen to a gospel station. There's no doubt you'll hear a song or two (or three plus) about mother, mama, mama dearest, or mom coming from your speakers.

1 comment:

  1. Hi JM,

    I want to tell you about my new website, It's for vinyl collectors with lots of gospel in it. Check out the gospel price guide, photo essay, and label migrations.

    Joe Goldmark


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