Monday, May 28, 2007

TBGB Pick of the Week: May 28, 2007

Angela "Missy" Billups
From the CD Churchin'
Missy B Music 2005

Resplendent in her going-to-church millinery, "Missy" Billups reminds us on the hand-clapping, organ-and-tambourine powered "Churchin'" what singing sounds like when saints get together to have "ch'ch." The song is a vibrant, non-stop medley of old-time songs, led by Billups and her backup vocalists, that is sure to get your heart racing and your shoutin' shoes a-shuffling.

On the CD's extended version, organist Ernest Billups swings rockabilly riffs reminiscent of Bill Haley's early work.

The New York vocalist's project benefited from the estimable talents of Gospel Announcers Guild VP Bishop Sam Williams, who mixed, edited, mastered, and provided spoken intro on the CD from whence this cut came.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette

Music of the Old South
Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette
Flaherty Recordings 2006

Polk Miller was that most American of specimens: a man of notable contradiction.

A pharmacist who developed animal medicines that formed the basis of today's Sergeant's Pet Care Products, Miller was also a talented banjo player and humorist whose praises were sung by no less a national icon than Mark Twain. He was a veteran of the Confederacy and an apologist for slavery, but also the first white man to travel humanely with a black quartet through Jim Crow America, presenting traditional songs that he loved hearing as a child “without resorting to farce or blackface make-up.”

Ultimately, Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette pioneered the bi-racial musical ensemble, a feat that wouldn’t be replicated in the U.S. until nearly 50 years later.

The story of Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette, and the music they recorded for the Edison and QRS companies, are bound in a handsomely designed and informative package called Music of the Old South. The reissue was produced by collector and music historian Ken Flaherty, Jr. on his Flaherty Recordings imprint.

This reissue of the ensemble’s 1909 Edison cylinders and the Quartette’s 1928 discs for QRS and Broadway is marvelous on so many fronts. First, Doug Seroff’s superb study of Miller, originally published in 78 Quarterly, comprises the bulk of the 25-page booklet in which the CD is packaged. Seroff details expertly how the “matter between Polk Miller and black people isn’t simple or straightforward.” Second, Flaherty adorns the package with rare and fascinating snippets of articles, photos, and even ticket stubs from Miller’s own scrapbook.

Third is the music. Ah, the music! All seven of the ensemble’s Edison cylinders (two- and four-minute) are provided first in their unedited state, with scratches and pops intact, and at the conclusion of the CD in a digitally cleaned up version. The extremely rare QRS/Broadway recordings are here, too, providing a glimpse of how the Quartette sounded when recorded electronically.

What one hears on the recordings are Polk Miller’s adept and old-timey banjo playing and a strong, rhythmic quartet sound that is at once untutored but much better for the lack of polish. The Old South Quartette’s “What a Time” and “Jerusalem Morning” are especially fascinating, as is the novelty secular piece, “Pussy Cat Rag.”

From a historian’s standpoint, however, the most interesting aspect of this project is hearing how spirituals may have been sung by ordinary African Americans in the 19th century versus the arranged spirituals that the professional Fisk Jubilee Singers and jubilee quartets made famous. That is, in his quest to replicate the sound he remembered growing up, Polk Miller preserved something of the authentic sound of African American singing in antebellum America.

Cheers to Ken Flaherty for lovingly producing this time capsule of African American vocal group singing.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

TBGB Pick of the Week: May 21, 2007

“Call Jesus”
Bruce Parham
From the upcoming Emtro Gospel CD Dwell Together
Street Date: June 5, 2007

Bishop Bruce V. Parham, Sr., founder and pastor of Wilmington, Delaware’s Oasis of Refreshing Ministries, possesses the closed-eyes vocal intensity of James Cleveland when he posits the opening question on his new radio single, “Call Jesus”: “Have you ever been disappointed by people who call themselves your friends?”

The spectacular Elder Toneisha Harris of Salisbury, MD coils her voice around Parham’s on what becomes a simmering duet with choral background singing. The song is contemporary enough for radio but sufficiently traditional to get the saints to shouting.

And for those of you who, like me, were wondering: no, Bishop Parham is not a blood relative to Kitty Parham of the Ward Singers and Stars of Faith.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

TBGB Reviews...The McClurkin Project

We Praise You
The McClurkin Project
Gospocentric Records 2007

On We Praise You, gospel superstar Donnie McClurkin hands the microphone to the female McClurkins (Andrea, Tanya, Cheri, and Olivia), and to “first member” Carol Carter. While Donnie chimes in from time to time – for example, lending his reassuring voice to “You’ll Be Fine” – it’s really Ladies Night at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral, where the CD was recorded in April, 2005.

The first two songs – the title track and “You are an Awesome God” – sets an excitingly upbeat and engaging tone for the project, while “As Long as There’s You” is a gospel power ballad with a lovely melody and theme that could be easily transformed into a wedding/love song by changing a couple of words.

The McClurkin Project also experiments musically on a couple of tracks. “His Mercy” features the enchanting Middle Eastern-sounding riffs and beats that appear on dance cuts these days, while “In the News Today” is bolstered by an urgent, staccato motive, written with tongue in cheek to sound like a self-important theme of a nightly newscast.

The only disappointing moment was “Precious Lord.” A song that Thomas Dorsey wrote from a wellspring of immense personal pain is presented here as a standard-issue paean. To me, “Precious Lord” is an expression of emotional heartache and divine deliverance. It is not a vehicle for praise and worship, nor should it be set to a neo-disco beat.

Overall, however, We Praise You has plenty to be thankful for, most of which is the showcasing of the depth of talent that resides within the McClurkin camp.

Three and a Half of Four Stars

Monday, May 14, 2007

An Update on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

Last May, TBGB reported on the magnificent $350,000 grant that Baylor University professor Robert Darden (left), author of People Get Ready! A New History of Black Gospel Music, secured to identify, acquire, clean, digitize and catalogue black gospel recordings.

This month Darden told TBGB, “The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project is complete. The digitization equipment is in place and the engineers and cataloguers have been hired. What they've done so far with the disks they've received is wonderful. Our goal is to make one copy of every black gospel recording ever released."

Darden first voiced his passion for preserving black gospel music recordings in a February 2005 New York Times opinion piece. The piece attracted the attention of many, but especially Charles Royce, president and chief investment officer of Royce & Associates LLC, and president of The Royce Funds. Impressed by Darden’s zeal and his plan to undertake such a daunting task, Royce made the gift to Baylor on January 1, 2006. The Charles M. Royce Black Gospel Music Restoration Project was born.

In the intervening months, Darden has been building the infrastructure – systems, staff, and procedures – to do justice to a genre of music that has greatly influenced the sound and drive of American popular music and musicians for the past several decades.

Darden asks collectors of black gospel recordings to loan, sell, or donate their 78s, 45s, LPs, and cassettes to the Project for digitization and cataloguing. “[The Project] does not want to own the originals," he said. ”We want to digitize and return, if that's what the donor would like, every collection, no matter how large or small.”

Audio Engineer Anthony Tadey concurs. “We want to do as much as we can to provide our patrons with as much peace of mind as possible.” Tadey estimates a 1:3 time ratio for digital transfer (e.g., a 40 minute LP will take about two hours to transfer). Tadey has even adopted a special packing process to ensure safe transfer of fragile discs back to their respective collectors.

The Project will pay expenses for shipping and handing and insurance, and is not going to make the songs commercially available. “We just want to save this music forever,” Darden said.

To learn more about the Charles M. Royce Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, go to:

To loan, sell, or donate black gospel recordings, contact Prof. Robert Darden of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project at 254/710-6353.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

William "Man" Barnes of the Sunset Jubilaires

From D.A. Johnson of the Malaco Music Group:

The Malaco Music Group regrets to announce the passing of Air Gospel Recording Artist William “Man” Barnes of The Sunset Jubilaires.

On Thursday, May 10, 2007, approximately 1 am, the Lord called him home after a long bout with cancer.

William “Man” Barnes was an original member of The Sunset Jubiliares and sang bass with the group for 40 years until his passing.

William was the brother of F.C. Barnes, uncle of Luther Barnes, and father of recording artists Debra & Wanda Barnes. He will be greatly missed!

Homegoing service arrangements are as follows:
H.D. Pope Funeral Home
325 Nash Street
Rocky Mount, NC 27802
Viewing: Monday, May 14, 2007
4: 00 pm to 7:00pm
Visitation: 8:00 pm to 9:00pm

Red Budd Holy Church
1108 Luper Street
Rocky Mount, NC 27803
Services: Tuesday, May 15, 2007
12:00 pm (Noon)

For more information call (252) 977-9195

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

45 RPM Gospel Classics from the Midwest

Scott Harlow of Chicago has created an interesting and fun website devoted to funk, soul and gospel 45s from the Midwest. Most of the issues are of late 60s-1970s vintage, when indie and vanity labels grew exponentially and captured the sound of the times.

On the Illinois Gospel page, you'll find photos of rare 45s, including a sampling of Offie Reece's One-Way discs, CIMUDE releases on the Duncanaires and the late Bishop L.H. Ford, and audio snippets from gems such as the Sensational Southerners of Chicago (Church) and the Spiritual Trumpets (Davis).

Ohio Gospel offers a smattering of James Bullard's BOS label, the uber-fertile ground of Bounty, and John Marshall Finch's gospel product on his eponymously named label. Now collectors items, Finch gospel releases were almost uniformly superb in quality of performer, performance, and production. I'm biased towards The Mighty Pilgrims' "I Tried," which I consider to be one of the best quartet records ever made. Period.

Michigan Gospel, specifically from the Detroit area, is flush with Bilesse, Knowles, Revival, and Fortune issues, as well as Cleveland-based Bounty Records' issues of neighboring Michigan groups. Check out the funky Walker Brothers single on Revival, "God's Been Good to Me," with cymbal brushing right out of "Shaft."

And what of Indiana? Hoosier state gospel is well represented, too, with an array of small labels (many from Indianapolis) mixed in with Buddy Pressner's Staff and Robert Anderson's Good Shepherd products from Gary. Listen to the underappreciated Cliff Gober's "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" with full soul orchestra accompaniment (Calvary).

So whadd'ya waiting for? Go to and knock yourself out.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

TBGB Reviews...The Spiritualaires of Hurtsboro, AL

The Spiritualaires of Hurtsboro, AL
Singing Songs of Praise
CaseQuarter 2007

For every gospel quartet that made a record, even if it was only a vanity single, there are a dozen quartets that never even stepped into a recording studio. That doesn't mean that only the best quartets made it on vinyl. On the contrary, many local groups that hold legendary status among quartet fans never signed a recording contract.

Thanks to producer Kevin Nutt and CaseQuarter, one of these unsung, unrecorded quartets finally gets a hearing outside its Alabama home. The Spiritualaires of Hurtsboro, Alabama -- Sam Relf, Robert Marion, Willie J. Smith, Rufus Jordan, Jimmy Anthony, and Curtis Harris on guitar -- appear on CD for the first time, despite being founded in 1948 and holding down a steady radio broadcast for more than 40 years.

On their debut project, Singing Songs of Praise, the Spiritualaires sound as if they walked into a living room, plugged in an amp, and began to sing. Their sound is part-gospel, part-jubilee, and all Alabama in -- as Nutt points out in his excellent liner notes -- their preference for slow arrangements that enable the harmonies to breathe.

Founding member and bass singer Robert Marion adds plenty of depth to the quartet's tight chord harmonizing on "Packing Up Our Clothes," and on his lead in "Come Over Here," he channels the quake-inducing low register of Jimmy Jones.

"I've Got Somewhere to Lay My Head" is not a variant of the Highway QCs and Sensational Nightingales' hit, but is memorable nevertheless for its loping tempo and catchy interplay between voices and guitar. The Spiritualaires do an admirable job on the Swan Silvertones' arrangement of "The Lord's Prayer," a song almost compulsory for any self-respecting old school quartet. Their "Some Folk Say" demonstrates that the separation line between gospel and country is not as pronounced as music historians would have us believe.

True to CaseQuarter's practice of providing not only the music but a glimpse into the world of gospel radio, Nutt squeezes in two spoken snippets from the quartet's regular radio broadcast, including in-studio advertisements (the ad for the "Cement Man" will bring a smile to your face).

Singing Songs of Praise reminds us of how many local quartets are still out there, waiting to be discovered or just enjoying the fellowship and worship experience. It also leaves us longing for the "good old days" when tuning into a fifteen- or thirty-minute radio program of quartet singing was as comfortable and dependable as a pair of favorite denims.

Three of Four Stars

Friday, May 04, 2007

J. Robert Bradley, 87, Charismatic Gospel Singer, Dies

Published: May 4, 2007 in the New York Times

J. Robert Bradley, whose deep, swooping, octave-leaping voice and charismatic presence made him one of the most important figures in gospel music, died yesterday in Nashville. He was 87.

The cause was complications of diabetes, said Anthony Heilbut, the author of “The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times” and the producer of Mr. Bradley’s most recent recordings.

Mr. Bradley was the favorite singer of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mahalia Jackson once said he had the greatest voice she had ever heard.

Mr. Bradley’s bass-baritone voice could be richly operatic or earthy, raspy and improvisational. He received classical voice training and had an extensive concert career, but he never left gospel music behind.

According to Mr. Heilbut, Mr. Bradley’s gospel performances could create an uproar. “Women would throw their pocketbooks, hats and wigs,” he said. “Men would run in circles or even hurl themselves out of balconies.”

John Robert Lee Bradley was born in Memphis and spent much of his career there. He was raised by his mother and grew up poor. When he was 12, he recounted in the book “A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak,” he found himself outside the city auditorium in Memphis, at a National Baptist Convention Christmas Eve program at which poor children singing in a church choir would be given clothes and Christmas stockings.

“I sang my way in there,” he said. He started singing outside the door, and a policeman brought out the convention’s music director, Lucie Campbell, a pioneering gospel songwriter who would become Mr. Bradley’s mentor. He recalled that the policeman asked her, “What do you hear?” and she replied, “I hear an angel singing.”

Ms. Campbell organized the Good Will Singers, an important gospel quartet of the 1930s that toured nationally, with Mr. Bradley as the main lead singer.

In the early 1940s he decided to study classical music. He moved first to New York and then to London, where he stayed for six years. His concert career carried him across Europe and the Americas, where he sang concerts that included arias, lieder and spirituals.

But he also performed steadily in churches and gospel concerts, and he was widely known as Mr. Baptist. He recorded his first gospel single for the Apollo label in 1950 and went on to record for Decca. In later years he recorded for Nashboro and Spirit Feel/Shanachie.

When Ms. Campbell died in 1963, Mr. Bradley succeeded her as director of music for the National Baptist Convention. He eventually moved to Nashville to work at the convention’s headquarters.

In 1975, he was knighted in Liberia.

Mr. Bradley wrote a memoir, “In the Hands of God,” that was published in 1993. He continued to perform until 2005, appearing that year at the National Baptist Convention’s annual convocation.

He left no immediate survivors.

Mr. Bradley favored the older, slower gospel styles, rooted in spirituals and quartet singing, but left audiences galvanized. Mahalia Jackson once said about him, “Nobody need mess with ‘Amazing Grace’ after Bradley gets through with it.”
Photo source: Tennessee Tech University - Volpe Library Archives

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Clara Walker of the Gospel Redeemers Passes Away

Bob Laughton informed TBGB today that Clara Walker, formerly of the Gospel Redeemers, died this past Sunday in New York. In the 1960s, Walker had her own gospel record label, Clar-Mar, releasing her own music and that of other gospel artists.

The Heavenly Choir just got another stone singer. Our sympathies to the family and friends of Clara Walker, THE Gospel Redeemer.

Check out Clara and the Gospel Redeemers via YouTube:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Gospel Memories Broadcast Pays Tribute to Historic Church

Hello, gospel music fans everywhere! Gospel Memories airs live this Sunday, May 6 from 3:00 to 7:30 a.m. Central Time US on Chicago's WLUW 88.7 FM, and streams live at

Highlights of Gospel Memories' Sixth Anniversary Show:
-- Last month, Chicago's Roberts Temple COGIC (left; source: Chicago Defender) received landmark status from the city for its role in the Civil Rights effort. The church held the open-casket funeral services of Emmett Till, the Chicago teen whose brutal murder in Mississippi in 1955 helped spark the modern Civil Rights movement.

To pay tribute to Roberts Temple, Gospel Memories will feature recordings of Brother Isaiah (Roberts) COGIC Choir, with soloist and former Argo Singer Lorenza Brown Porter. Roberts was pastor of Roberts Temple COGIC, a church planted by his father, Bishop William Roberts. We will also feature music from another famous family member, Sis. Minnie Pearl Roberts, who was one of the earliest Pentecostal singers to make a phonograph record.

Also, our "Preacher Feature" will be a sermon snippet (ca. 1960s) delivered by Brother Isaiah Roberts.

Note: to learn more about the Roberts Family, be sure to read Elder Mack C. Mason's Saints in the Land of Lincoln.

-- In Loving Memory -- the music of two gospel legends who went home this past month:

James Davis - founding member of the Dixie Hummingbirds

Mildred Clark - of the Kansas City Melodyaires

A special "Mother's Day" message from the mid-60s from legendary Chicago DJ Lucky Cordell.

Benediction: "The Lord's Prayer" is brought to you by the Echoes of Eden of St. Paul Baptist Church of Los Angeles, California, feat. Prof. J. Earle Hines (Rev. John Branham, Pastor) - 1940s

-- A rare recording of the Sallie Martin Gospel Singers

Other music -- familiar and not-so -- from:
Gospel Soulettes of Philadelphia
Tommy Ellison and the Five Singing Stars
Rev. John Thomas Singers
Gospel Chimes
Pilgrim Jubilee Singers
Famous Davis Sisters
Dr. C.J. Johnson (he was old school before it was cool)
Zion Travelers
Metropolitan Spiritual Church of Christ (KC) feat. Rev. Henri Lawson
Spiritualaires of Hurtsburo, AL - a new release from CaseQuarter!
Chicago's Mt. Eagle B.C. Choir feat. Ernest Franklin
"Pops" Harris and the Masonic Quintet (singing an Anthony Heilbut original!)
Original Five Blind Boys feat. Roscoe Robinson
Swan Silvertones

...and plenty more where this comes from!

So tune in and turn on to the joyful sound of "Gospel Memories"...the soundtrack of That Old Time Religion.

Bob Marovich, Host
"Gospel Memories" -- Taking You Back to The Old Landmark
First Sundays, 3:00 to 7:30 a.m. Central Time US
WLUW 88.7 FM Chicago