In recognition of Black History Month, I felt it would be appropriate to repost this entry from April 2010. Please note that since the writeup, BET's Sunday Best has been canceled, and I have made a few minor edits to correct some issues and update a few things.
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 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 dismissed the singer and 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 lover of the traditional gospel sound 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). Dust off some Golden Era goodies and give them a whirl. You may even want to start a choir or a group to exclusively sing these songs. These "good ole" Golden Era good news songs should be celebrated every day. After all, it's always a good time to give Praise!