Friday, June 27, 2008

"Blind Boys of Alabama Battling" - Lee Hildebrand in the San Francisco Chronicle

From The San Francisco Chronicle. Lee Hildebrand has written many times before on the subject of black gospel quartets.

Blind Boys of Alabama battling

Friday, June 27, 2008

For 60 years, ever since a New Jersey promoter booked two sets of blind gospel singers - the Happyland Singers from Alabama and the Jackson Harmoneers from Mississippi - and advertised the program as "Battle of the Blind Boys," a friendly rivalry has existed between the two. They soon changed their names to the Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama and the Original Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and often toured together, with members sometimes jumping from one group to the other.

Although the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi remain active on the shrinking gospel-quartet circuit, they have sunk into relative obscurity compared with the Blind Boys of Alabama, as they've been called in recent years. Since 1985, when a group billed as the Five Blind Boys of Alabama - actually Clarence Fountain, Samuel Butler Jr. and Caleb "Bobby" Butler from the Alabama group and Jimmy Carter and J.T. Clinkscales from the Mississippi group - began appearing collectively as Oedipus in the hit musical theater production "Gospel at Colonus," the Alabama group has moved into the entertainment mainstream. The repertoire, while still containing many traditional gospel selections, expanded to include material by such secular artists as George Clinton, Bob Dylan, Fatboy Slim, Ben Harper, Prince, Tom Waits and Stevie Wonder. Four such Blind Boys of Alabama CDs, issued by Peter Gabriel's Real World Records, received Grammy Awards in the traditional soul gospel category.

"Down in New Orleans," the Blind Boys of Alabama's January release for Time Life, has received rave reviews and seems certain to capture another Grammy. Despite all the attention given the disc, little has been made of the fact that it's the first in the group's 60-year recording history not to include founding member and principal lead singer Fountain - the result of a bitter battle between him and the group's management.

To read the entire article, go to:

Blind Boys of Alabama Battling

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Late, Great Ira Tucker

From the New York Times:

Ira Tucker, Gospel Singer Who Gave Dixie Hummingbirds Emotive Edge, Dies at 83


Published: June 26, 2008

Ira Tucker, a little man with a giant vocal range and acrobatic stage antics who as lead singer of the Dixie Hummingbirds helped propel gospel music toward a harder-edged, more emotive style, died on Tuesday in Philadelphia. He was 83.

The cause was heart failure, his son, Ira Jr., said, adding that he had earlier suffered two major heart attacks.

Read more at:

More information, from Ira Tucker, Jr.:

Contact: Ira Tucker JR, +1-856-853-9388,, for the Dixie Hummingbirds

PHILADELPHIA, June 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Mr. Tucker was a living legacy! The Dixie Hummingbirds began their remarkable musical journey in 1928 in Greenville, SC, organized by the late, great James B. Davis. Tucker joined the gospel group in 1938 at age 13, and over the next seventy years was in the forefront as the Birds soared to world acclaim.

Tucker's unique sound mixture of gospel and blues added versatility to the Birds style - establishing them as the leading black Southern quartet. They performed across the landscapes of America and throughout Europe; toured the circuit of black churches and gospel extravaganzas; brought audiences to their feet at Harlems famed Apollo Theater; introduced gospel music to integrated listeners at New York's Cafe Society; were a hit at the Newport Folk Festival; appeared with Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon on the "David Letterman Show"; were featured on Ted Koppel's "Nightline"; and honored worldwide.

Tucker was inspired and inspiring. Musicologist Horace Boyer writes, "Not only did he put his voice and vocal technique to use, he became the model for the activity singer. He ran up and down aisles, jumped from the stage, and spun around without sacrificing one iota of the pure music sound that he first brought to the quartethe served as the model for many R&B and soul singers."

Throughout Tucker's career, he wrote and recorded one masterpiece after another. Among his many accomplishments: 1973 - Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance. "Love Me Like A Rock;" 2000 - Induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame; 2007 - Nomination for Best Traditional Gospel Album, "Still Keeping It Real;" 2008 - Feature-length documentary/concert film "The Dixie Hummingbirds: Eighty Years Young."

Ira Tucker and The Dixie Hummingbirds were deemed a national treasure by the National Endowment For The Arts/2000 DC. His hometown of Philadelphia has solidified this phenomenon with the creation of a powerful mural and street renaming at 15th & Dixie Hummingbirds Way.

Ira Tucker was a wonderful man - not just as a performer, but as a human being - always friendly and approachable, always with that twinkle in his eye.

Quoting his father, Ira Tucker, Jr. reminisced, "All this from a little kid from Spartanburg, SC."

Tucker is survived by Louise, his devoted wife of 65 years; son Ira Jr.; two daughters Sundray Tucker and Lynda Laurance; 5 grandchildren, 6 great grandchildren.

D.A. Johnson of Malaco Records adds that the funeral arrangements are being handled by Yarborough Rocke Funeral Home, 1001 N. 63rd St. Philadelphia, PA 19151. Phone: (215)-473-5100.

Please send cards and flowers to the funeral home. Faxed condolences should be sent to: 215-879-3145. E-mail:

Services will be held in Philadelphia on Wed. July 2 at The Met, Broad & Dixie Hummingbirds Way (Poplar Street). Viewing begins at 9:00am; funeral at 11:00am.

Interment will follow at Ivy Hill Cemetery.

Contact: Ira Tucker JR
Telephone: 856-853-9388

SOURCE Dixie Hummingbirds, Ira Tucker Jr.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gamble, LaBelle and Temple University Team Up for Patriotic Performance

From a Press Release:

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee and Grammy Award Winner
KENNY GAMBLE releases “I Am An American”

AND Temple University Symphony Orchestra & Choirs


As we approach Independence Day, it is hard not to pay tribute to America by listening to the songs associated with our country’s greatness. Timing is everything and in a historic year of change in these United States, a new piece of music reflects a deeply held sentiment of empowerment, patriotism and pride.

A recording of “I Am An American,” a song adopted by U.S. spiritual leader the late Father Divine and his International Peace Mission movement, has been produced by legendary music producer and songwriter and recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Kenneth Gamble, the co-founder of Philadelphia International Records (known for hundreds of classic hits by such artists as The O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass and Patti LaBelle among many others).

“I Am An American” will be released by Sony BMG Masterworks and be available from all digital service providers on July 1st.

Father of the “Philadelphia Sound,” Kenny Gamble teams up with Patti LaBelle and the Temple University Symphony Orchestra and Choirs to bring America its new ode to patriotism, “I Am An American.” Full of huge orchestral crescendos, excerpts from important speeches in American history and original words, along with Ms. LaBelle’s powerful and soulful voice, “I Am An American” has all the making of being one of the great patriotic tunes of our time.

When Temple University honored Gamble and his wife Faatimah for their community work in Philadelphia, the famed music man was inspired by hearing the prestigious educational institution’s choir and orchestra and envisioned using them for “I Am An American.” Adding Patti Labelle – with whom he has worked many times since their childhood days in Philly – was Gamble’s idea and the powerhouse vocalist’s performance on the song showcases a whole new side of her artistry, her first classically-oriented recording.

The writer of songs of empowerment such as “Wake Up Everybody” and “Message In Our Music,” Kenny Gamble views “I Am An American” as a recording meant to inspire, uplift and encourage a sense of pride in the nation: “In recent times, Americans have been depressed about many things and not always happy about the country. The words of this song and the performance by Patti LaBelle and the Temple choirs and orchestra can lift the spirits for America that has always been destined to be a country standing for freedom, justice and equality. It is the first time in the history of humanity that we have people of all creeds, colors and races in one place at one time. This recording is about being proud to be an American because in 2008, we are doing a lot of great things. I’m hopeful that “I Am An American” will be a new song for our country, that it will raise our morale and raise the consciousness of the people at a time when destiny has put us at a turning point in our history as a nation.”

Historically, patriotic music has helped narrate the birth of our country, describe the struggles we overcame, and layout the bright future that we see for ourselves as a nation. Kenneth Gamble has kept true to this musical tradition, paying homage to where this country came from and where it is going. “I Am An American” may become one of our country’s great anthems -- musically waving our country’s flag for all to hear.


Vera Sheps
Two Sheps That Pass…

Larissa Slezak
Sony BMG Masterworks

NOTE: TBGB previewed "I Am An American" and it reminded us in melody, arrangement and lyric of classic patriotic recordings such as Paul Robeson's "Ballad for Americans" (1939) and Frank Sinatra's "The House I Live In" (1943).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Paul Porter Leaves Christianaires for Solo Career

From (June 23, 2008)

The Christianaires recently announced that Paul Porter, one of the founding members, is leaving the group to pursue a solo career. Paul has been a key component and featured artist for the group for thirty years.

During that time they have become one of the top quartet groups in the world. In 2007 the group was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and is widely known for their electrifying and anointed performances.

Porter has also been an intricate part of the group’s difficult struggles to prominence in the Gospel music industry. The Christianaires thoughts and prayers are always with him as he moves on to face new challenges.

The Christianaires will also take the opportunity to grow. Members Tyrone Porter, Ronald Brown, Charles Porter and Christopher Dean are committed as ever to continuing the music ministry in the same tradition. Charles Porter will take the helm as their featured/primary lead singer.

The Christianaires are also actively seeking an additional lead singer. Interested parties should contact Nu Horizon Booking and Management at 601-587-8000.

Ira Tucker (1925 - 2008)

Thanks to everyone who contacted TBGB informing us that the great quartet singer Ira Tucker of the Dixie Hummingbirds went from earthly labor to eternal reward today, June 24, at the age of 83.

Rev. Joe Williams of Philadelphia, a member of the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Sons of the Birds, offered to provide TBGB with details on homegoing services as they become available.

Our prayers to Mr. Tucker's family and friends, and to the quartet community, which has lost one of its legendary voices.

Pay tribute to Mr. Tucker by putting a Birds record on the ol' turntable tonight (or a CD in the player, your preference!) and remember a great singer who has joined the Heavenly Quartet.

(Photo of Mr. Tucker, above left, from Great God A'Mighty!, Jerry Zolten's superb biography of the Dixie Hummingbirds)

Monday, June 23, 2008

TBGB Pick of the Week: June 23, 2008

“It’s the Grace of God Keeping Me”
Ron Barrett
From the CD It’s the Grace of God Keeping Me
(private press) 2008

Stellar-nominated Chicagoan Ron Barrett is a young man with an old soul and deep roots in traditional gospel music.

Ron's father, the late Rev. S.L. Barrett, was the beloved pastor of Galilee Baptist Church and a gospel radio announcer in Chicago. His uncle, the Rev. T.L. Barrett, was also a popular preacher who recorded sermons for Savoy's Gospel subsidiary and the Randy's Spirituals imprint. His cousins are the renowned Barrett Sisters. Ron himself possesses an impressive dossier of work with some of the finest gospel choirs in Chicago – Sweet Holy Spirit, Fellowship, Nu City Mass, Chicago Mass, the list goes on – where he further honed his vocal skills.

The title track of Barrett’s wonderful traditional-leaning album, It’s the Grace of God Keeping Me, has the flavor of a mass choir song – uptempo and unabashedly traditional – presented by Barrett and a cadre of backing voices. Pastor Wendell Lowe backs the ensemble by drawing ragtime riffs like precious memories out of the Hammond organ.

While “Grace” is the outstanding track on the album, other can’t-misses are the hymnic “So Glad I Know Him,” composed by Ethlyn Wade; Barrett’s heartfelt, albeit brief “Pass Me Not;” and the rousing “He’ll Do Just What He Said.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pam Crumbley & Chosen: Make Your Presence Known (tbgb review)

Make Your Presence Known
Pam Crumbley & Chosen
BOG Records 2008

Let's remain in Ohio for a moment...

Cincinnati has been ablaze with gospel music since 1933, when Sallie Martin made the Queen City one of her earliest stops during a recruitment tour for the fledgling National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. On Make Your Presence Known, Pam Crumbley & Chosen demonstrate that the city’s love affair with traditional gospel remains strong.

Crumbley possesses that quintessential gospel voice -- bluesy, edgy and sanctified -- a style that plays perfectly off Chosen’s full-throated singing. The female group's sound is so voluminous, in fact, that one expects to see three times more members than the ensemble actually has.

A number of songs on Make Your Presence Known are broken into two parts, ostensibly to facilitate radio play. While the opening track is fairly standard gospel fare, the title track caught my interest, especially in its interpolation of the COGIC “Yes Lord” chant. “Saved” is hymn-like, and “Deliver Me” is the album’s drive song. The best track is “I Made It,” chiefly because of its encouraging, relevant lyrics, dazzling organ performance and the live audience's supportive reaction. Crumbley notes that "I Made It" is an adaptation of Douglas Miller's "When I See Jesus," and dedicated to the memory of Cincinnati gospel legend and GMWA stalwart Dr. Charles Fold.

Make Your Presence Known, which I believe is Pam Crumbley & Chosen's second project, is an indie-produced album that contains enough well-produced, soul-stirring gospel music to garner greater attention.

Three of Four Stars

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Annie Robinson, Akron's 'Gospel Time' radio show host, dies at 79

Article by Colette M. Jenkins
Akron Beacon Journal religion writer
Published on Friday, Jun 20, 2008

Annie W. Robinson declared ''if Jesus can't fix it, nobody can,'' every Sunday morning for more than four decades across local radio airwaves.

Her voice was silenced on Tuesday, after a short battle with cancer, at Akron General Medical Center. The Akron Broadcasters Hall of Famer was 79.

''Ann Robinson was a strong tower in the community and in the churches. She reached beyond the Akron community with her radio program, which was her Christian outreach of the gospel message through gospel songs,'' said the Rev. Samuel Johnson, senior pastor of New Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, where Mrs. Robinson was a member. ''She was just an all-around good person and she was an inspiration to countless people, including me.''

Dubbed the ''Gospel Queen,'' Mrs. Robinson started hosting her radio program Gospel Time in 1964 on 1350-AM [when the now WARF sports radio station was WADC, sponsored by the Automobile Dealers Co.]. Her show was a Sunday morning mainstay through the station's format transitions from automotive to country to urban contemporary to sports.

WARF Program Director Keith Kennedy said it would be difficult to find a family in the Greater Akron black church community that hasn't listened to her gospel music show.

''I don't know too many people who didn't start their Sunday mornings with her,'' Kennedy said. ''You wouldn't believe the number of people who have been calling in and saying they listened to the show as a child and now they're sharing the show with their children. She really bridged the gap between generations in families.''

Kennedy said Mrs. Robinson did more than anyone in the area to promote gospel music and to keep people informed about the activities at local churches, from revivals to concerts. Because of her following, Kennedy said Mrs. Robinson was always able to maintain longtime sponsors.

On Sunday, the radio station is inviting listeners to call in [330-867-4907] from 8:30 to 10 a.m. to share their memories of Mrs. Robinson. The call-in is scheduled during the hours of Mrs. Robinson's Gospel Time program.

The Rev. Henry Dunn said he will miss hearing Mrs. Robinson's voice and her enthusiasm for sharing gospel music with her audience. Dunn hosts Road to Glory, a gospel music program that airs at 7:30 a.m. Sundays on WARF. He has been filling in for Mrs. Robinson during Gospel Time for the past two months.

''Ann was the kind of person who would help whomever she could,'' Dunn said. ''Not only did she promote gospel music — particularly local gospel groups — and events, she was a community worker. She worked in church kitchens helping to feed those in need and she attended the very events she encouraged her audience to support.''

Mrs. Robinson came to Akron as a child with her parents, the late Ernestine and James Curry Sr., from Alabama. She graduated from East High School and attended Hamilton Business College.

She retired from Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in 1992, after 39 years of service. She was a lifetime member of the NAACP, a member of the Bethany Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, and a member of the Gospel Announcers Guild, a division of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.

In addition to being an integral part of the black church community, Mrs. Robinson served as the matriarch of her family. Her niece, Camille Carter, said her aunt was the person family members went to when they needed advice or spiritual guidance.

''She was always open and honest and she loved her family dearly. She was a wonderful cook. She loved to cook. She loved fishing and bowling, until her knees went bad,'' Carter said. ''We are going to miss her presence at family gatherings. She was a very strong woman. Whenever we had a problem, we would call her and she was always there.''

Mrs. Robinson is survived by a daughter, Cheryl Lopp; a granddaughter whom she raised, Annie Robinson; three brothers and two sisters.

A funeral service is at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Greater Bethel Baptist Church, 404 S. Arlington St. (***Note: Location has changed.***) Calling hours are 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Greater Bethel. Stewart & Calhoun Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Legislation Pending to Make September 2008 "Gospel Music Heritage Month"

The Gospel Music Channel television network has joined with Senator Blanche L. Lincoln (D-Ark.), Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), and The Recording Academy(R) to launch the "Gospel Music Heritage Month" initiative.

The legislation in the House of Representatives (H.Con. Res. 370) and the Senate (S. Res. 595) designates September 2008 as "Gospel Music Heritage Month," honoring gospel music for its valuable long-standing contributions to American culture. The initiative was created by the Gospel Music Channel, the country's first and only 24/7television network devoted to all forms of Gospel/Christian music. The initiative was publicly unveiled at The Recording Academy's GRAMMY(R)s on the Hill event at the U.S. Capitol on June 18.

"Gospel Music is a cornerstone of the American musical tradition and has grown beyond its established audience to achieve pop-culture and historical relevance across the globe," said Lincoln. "My home state of Arkansas has a rich history in gospel music and I am proud to honor this tradition that has touched audiences around the world."

"In addition to its contribution to American music, gospel music has provided the cultural and musical backdrop across all of mainstream media, including art, books, television and motion pictures. It is infused in the DNA of our entire society and a month to recognize its importance and vast contributions to our country is long overdue," commented Hutchison.

"Gospel music is an important American legacy and continues to play a significant role in the lives of millions. It is appropriate to honor the countless contributions Gospel music has made to our society," said Leahy.

"Gospel music is an historical American art form that has spanned hundreds of generations and both inspires and entertains across racial, ethnic, religious, and geographic boundaries. We must officially recognize the great contributions to American culture that have derived from the rich heritage of gospel music and its artists," said Jackson-Lee.

"By surpassing culturally constructed boundaries, gospel music has emerged as the musical thread uniting the fabric of America and is more popular than ever. It is important that we recognize and celebrate the vital role that gospel music and all its many styles have played in shaping music history," commented Bono Mack.

"This is the opportunity for the millions of gospel/Christian music fans to have their own national month to honor and celebrate the rich heritage of their music," said Charles Humbard, Founder and President of the Gospel Music Channel. "We thank Senators Lincoln, Hutchison and Leahy, and Representatives Jackson-Lee and Bono Mack, for their efforts and The Recording Academy for its partnership. We look forward to celebrating 'Gospel Music Heritage Month' in September."

"A key mission of The Recording Academy is recognizing musical excellence, advocating for the well-being of music makers and ensuring music remains an indelible part of our culture," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "To have gospel music nationally recognized in the month of September pays great homage to this influential and inspirational genre. It's an honor to make this announcement at our GRAMMY(R)s on the Hill event in our nation's capital."

Those interested in "Gospel Music Heritage Month" resolution should visit:

Gospel Music Channel (GMC) is the nation's first and only 24/7 television network devoted to the uplifting, inspiring and diverse music that is Gospel/Christian music. Gospel Music Channel is the fastest-growing network in television today and can be seen in nearly 40 million homes on various cable systems around the country and on DIRECTV.

Established in 1957, The Recording Academy is an organization of musicians, producers, engineers and recording professionals that is dedicated to improving the cultural condition and quality of life for music and its makers. Internationally known for the GRAMMY Awards - the preeminent peer- recognized award for musical excellence and the most credible brand in music - The Recording Academy is responsible for groundbreaking professional development, cultural enrichment, advocacy, education and human services programs. In its 50th year, The Academy continues to focus on its mission of recognizing musical excellence, advocating for the well-being of music makers and ensuring music remains an indelible part of our culture.

For more information about The Academy, please visit

Source: Gospel Music Channel and

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shirley Caesar: After 40 Years...Still Sweeping Through the City (tbgb review)

After 40 Years…Still Sweeping Through the City
Shirley Caesar
Shu-Bel Records/Light Records 2007

Still sweeping, indeed.

Celebrating her fortieth anniversary as a solo artist, the starting point being the release of her “I’ll Go” LP for Hob Records in 1967, Pastor Shirley Caesar gives the listener a healthy sampling of her traditional side on her latest project, After 40 Years…Still Sweeping Through the City. Caesar recorded this album to remind gospel enthusiasts of the sounds and songs that made her a household name, and to introduce her earlier work to a new generation who may be unfamiliar with it.

And she’s on fire throughout this, her 41st album, but the debut release on her Shu-Bel Records imprint (named for Caesar and her sister), distributed by Light Records. The opening track, “Sweeping Through the City,” sets the tone, with Mighty Clouds of Joy leader Joe Ligon joining Caesar on the driving-tempo musical inferno that hearkens back to the singer’s days with the Caravans. Speaking of the ‘Vans, Caesar shares a penchant for parables with former Caravan colleague Dorothy Norwood. Caesar sings, shouts, testifies, evangelizes, and works the audience into holy exhilaration with classic story songs such as “The Old Apple Tree” and “Hold My Mule,” though her most popular, “No Charge,” was not reprised.

While “Sweeping” is the obvious standout track on the live recording, other highlights include “Peace in the Midst of the Storm,” a Steve Adams composition that sounds like it came right out of the Martin & Morris archives. The Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Choir (her church choir) and the Caesar Singers who accompany Caesar deserve special mention for their raw power and musical stamina. A medley that includes “Nobody But You, Lord” features bone-chilling congregational singing. And famed quartet singer and musician Criss Johnson on lead guitar gives the project additional traditional cred.

Pastor Caesar has come a very long way, more than 40 years if you consider her membership in Thelma Bumpess’ Royalettes during the Truman Era. Yet in sound, spirit, style and sheer commitment, Caesar will be sweeping for a mighty long time.

Three and a Half of Four Stars

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Salute to Gospel Celebrates Grammy Honorees

From EURweb (

Grammy Award winning artists Edwin and Walker Hawkins, five-time Grammy Award winner Sandi Patty, and five-time Grammy Award winning group the Winans, will be the recipients of the President’s Merit Award at the 2008 Grammy Salute to Gospel Music.

The event will be held tonight, June 18, at the Lincoln Theater in Washington, DC.

The President’s Merit Award recognizes the contributions that key individuals have made in the music industry and the impact their efforts have had on the music business.

The award is an opportunity for The Recording Academy to acknowledge and honor the contributions of these outstanding individuals.

Past honorees include Shirley Caesar, Andrae’ Crouch, Bill and Gloria Gaither, Bill Hearn, Billy Ray Hearn, Richard Smallwood, Albertina Walker, the Clark Sisters, Dr. Bobby Jones and Michael W. Smith.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Anita Myles - "R U Willing?" (tbgb review)

R U Willing?
Anita Myles
YA Pro Productions 2007

Singer/songwriter Anita Myles has more than a touch of jazz and RnB in her voice. She brings these musical sensibilities, and COGIC influences (including work with the Edwin Hawkins Youth and Young Adult Mass Choir), to bear on R U Willing?, her debut CD.

The project, named a finalist in the 7th Annual Independent Music Awards (IMAs) for "Best Gospel Album" (as was Rev. Clay Evans), benefits greatly from the talented Bill Moss Jr. who doubles as producer and outstanding piano accompanist.

Myles wrote all but one of the songs on the ten track album (she concludes with a jazzy treatment of Lucy Smith Collier's classic "He's My Light"). A contemporary gospel project with urban leanings, R U Willing? is at its most musically interesting during the slower pieces, such as "Everything to Me," "Sent From Above" and "My Prayer," because they give Myles a chance to weave vocal depth and character into the songs. In fact, "Sent From Above" is perfect for gospel radio because it takes time to draw the listener in, as all good gospel performances do.

Throughout the CD, the instrumental accompaniment is genuine, not synthetic and overly electric, thus serving as an ideal backdrop to Myles' passionate singing.

My particular favorite from the album is "Nothing Is Impossible." The track addresses life's daily struggles and setbacks, albeit with a techno intro and infectious beat that all but command you to turn up the volume. So turn up the volume and let the music make you stronger!

Two and a Half of Four Stars

Monday, June 09, 2008

TBGB Pick of the Week: June 9, 2008

"Mujje" ("The Invitation")
Omega Bugembe Okello
From the CD Kiwomera Emmeeme
Comin Atcha Distribution Group 2008

An African Children's Choir alumna who has since earned her masters degree at Sarah Lawrence College and started her own record label, AlexOm Productions LLC, Ugandan singer Omega Bugembe Okello has produced Kiwomera Emmeeme (trans. "It is Sweet to the Soul"), a world music album that pulses with polyrhythmic energy and muscular harmonies. Her voice reminds me of Angelique Kidjo and Natalie Merchant. The album is underpinned by a swirl of African and Western instrumentation.

An outstanding track on the album is "Mujje," which is "an invitation to celebrate true life and satisfaction in God." Omega sings the song in her native Luganda language, so unless you know Luganda, you might rethink singing along and let Omega do the honors.

Even if you can't understand the lyrics of "Mujje," you get the point in the song's bright melody, lively arrangement and Omega's joyful reading.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Trying to Get Ready: Wings over Jordan (tbgb review)

Trying to Get Ready
Wings over Jordan
Gospel Friend 2008

As a radio announcer who programs vintage gospel music, I can say from experience that I get more requests for the Swan Silvertones, Gospel Clefs and the Wings Over Jordan Choir than any other gospel groups.

Fortunately, the Swans’ King, Specialty and Vee Jay catalogues have been well anthologized. The lack of interest in reissuing the Clefs Savoy recordings is a pity and a shame (and an enigma), and what of Wings Over Jordan? The choir’s nationally syndicated radio program was compulsory listening when it debuted in the late 1930s. Many African Americans who grew up in the 1940s remember walking to church on warm Sundays and enjoying the choir’s weekly broadcast as it emanated from open windows along the way. Yet the choir’s significant recorded output has long been out of print, and not commercially available on CD.

Until now, that is. Gospel Friend of Sweden has answered the call with Trying to Get Ready. The 25-track, handsomely illustrated retrospective covers the choir’s early 1940s sessions through its 1953 session for King Records that produced the album Amen.

An especially fascinating inclusion on Trying to Get Ready is an Armed Forces Radio Services transcription of the choir from 1945. Most WOJC fans will not have heard this recording since it was broadcast more than sixty years ago. In fact, the CD’s opening track, “Walk Together Children,” comes from this transcription disc, sweeping listeners back in time, reminding us what an exciting, electric experience it was to listen to radio back in the days before television, the Internet, and various other means of communication and entertainment.

WOJC founder Rev. Glenn T. Settle’s intoned introductions to some of the spirituals have always sounded to me like the very Voice of God, and of course there’s the choir’s signature humming motif, at once mournful and hopeful. Once you’ve heard it, you never forget it.

Besides the long-forgotten Armed Forces Radio Services transcription, the special treat on Gospel Friend’s reissue is hearing in CD crispness the powerful soprano solos of Mildred Pollard on “I’m Going to Sit at the Welcome Table” and “He’s All and All to Me.” Pollard assisted the project by contributing rare photos and data to the superbly annotated and illustrated booklet written by gospel historian and Gospel Friend co-founder Per Notini. These tracks suggest that Pollard could have become a gospel singer outside of the WOJC, but as Notini's text notes, she decided to leave the choir and touring to start a family, and that was that.

My only suggestion for the compilation would have been to include record label information with the session personnel information, which by the way is as complete as you are going to find.

Gospel Friend has filled other significant gospel reissue gaps in the past, releasing the only CD dedicated exclusively to the famed Echoes of Eden of the St. Paul Baptist Church of Los Angeles, as well as top-shelf treatments of Clara Ward and the Ward Singers, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s singing partner, Madame Marie Knight. Maybe they ought to tackle the Gospel Clefs.

NOTE: Any CDs on the Gospel Friend label should be obtained online through City Hall Records, USA:

Four of Four Stars

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Family Prayer - The Murrills (tbgb review)

Family Prayer
The Murrills
QuietWater Entertainment/Verity/Zomba Gospel 2008

Speaking of singing families, here’s another: the Murrills of North Carolina, fresh from their tenure in Donald Lawrence’s multi-talented Tri-City Singers. Darwin, Damion, Donnell, Andre, Roger and Arnetta dropped their first single as a solo group, “Family (There’s a Healing)” to gospel radio last December (TBGB reviewed it), and released their debut album, Family Prayer, last Tuesday (June 3).

Based on hearing the intimate, prayerful “Family,” I had anticipated a Praise and Worship sound from the Murrills, but they are equally comfortable with uptempo arrangements, of which the album has plenty. Arnetta – a featured lead vocalist with Tri-City – is clearly the family’s strongest singer, but the entire project has the feel of a praise party at which brothers and sisters take turns in front of the lead microphone.

Throughout this Donald Lawrence production, I couldn’t help thinking how much the Murrills remind me of the early Winans. Like the Detroit family, the Murrills experiment with a variety of contemporary styles, from moody introspection on the New Edition cover “Can You Stand the Rain?,” to the muscular vocals and beat of “Don’t Let Me Fall,” to the neo-seventies feel of “Better,” which befits the album cover’s retro design. By covering the Winans’ “Long Time Comin’ (Holdin’ On),” perhaps this emulation is not entirely coincidental.

Family Prayer opens and closes with “One Mo’ Time,” a track that unveils the Murrills’ southeastern pedigree. A bluesy harmonica introduces tight, country church harmonies from a family that grew up harmonizing with one another.

Lyrically, the Murrills are in touch with the concerns of the modern churchgoer, singing about the impact of domestic violence, depression, abuse, and marital dischord. It’s not your grandmother’s gospel, but then again, it’s not your grandmother’s world. Still, troubles are troubles, and the Murrills remind the listener that while the issues and beat may have changed, it’s still all about the one who never changes.

Three and a Half of Four Stars

WCHB trades its talk shows for gospel music


WCHB-AM (1200) announced a format change, effective Monday, that eliminates its news and sports talk lineup except for its well-rated morning show, helmed by outspoken political commentator Mildred Gaddis.

Among the weekday casualties are syndicated shows by Warren Ballentine and Rev. Al Sharpton and local chat fests featuring Detroit-based talkers Rob Parker and Mark Wilson, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Angelo Henderson, who may be retained for a Sunday-only show, according to station marketing director Kathie Stonehouse. She said the station retained Gaddis -- the only nonmusic show on the station -- because "Mildred Gaddis is an institution. It's an award-winning show."

Gaddis is also responsible for the best ratings of WCHB's broadcast day. Among all listeners in the latest Arbitron ratings survey, WCHB scored a 1.1 rating, good for 20th place; Gaddis' show lured a 2.5 among all morning listeners, ranking 15th.

Gaddis has been a vocal critic of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and her ratings have shot up since the text-message scandal broke.

After Gaddis' show ends at 10 a.m., the rest of the day will be filled with gospel music -- with no program hosts. The station's slogan will be ""Mildred in the Morning and Inspiration All Day -- AM 1200 WCHB."

"Our decision to change format will not only give the station a clearer focus, it will also fill an obvious void in the marketplace," said station general manager Kathy Stinehour in a statement.

"The Detroit market is underserved in this format, and so we are following the lead of our parent company, Radio One Inc., who now leads the nation in this compelling space."

Actually, there is some gospel competition from Clear Channel-owned WMXD-FM (92.3), which offers an all-gospel music format on its High Definition Channel 2.

Detroit is known as one of the nation's top producers of gospel talent. WCHB will feature gospel music from artists like Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Sapp, Kirk Franklin and homegrown acts such as Fred Hammond and the many artists in the Winans family stable.

TBGB NOTE: The logo above is from an old station survey. Finally...a win for gospel radio! And over talk radio. Hallelujah!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Gospel Radio "Sorely Lacking" in Boston

Gospel music is alive in Boston.


Since the demise of WILD, the genre’s listeners and performers have had to find innovative ways to keep joyful noises on local airwaves.

Read the complete text of Talia Whyte's interesting story for the Bay State Banner here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Vicki Mack Lataillade "Most Powerful Woman in Gospel"

She brought the world Kirk Franklin, Kurt Carr and Trin-i-tee 5:7.

Yolanda Adams, BeBe & CeCe Winans, and Tramaine Hawkins have tapped into her keen marketing skills, and even before the sale of her label – GospoCentric Records – to Zomba two years ago, Vicki Mack Lataillade was considered the most powerful woman in the Gospel music industry.

After a little more than a year out of the spotlight, she is back with a new venture and innovation partnership with EMI Gospel, the Lillie Mack Singalong Series.

Singer/songwriter Carnell Murrell is the first featured writer of the Lillie Mack Singalong Series.

The series keys in on music for congregations and the showcasing of writers who produce great music, and is set to make its official Gospel debut at Bobby Jones international Gospel Retreat.

The Lillie Mack catalog is comprised of more than 800 songs written by some of Gospel music’s premier artists and writers, including Kirk Franklin, Byron Cage, Dorinda Clark-Cole, Hezekiah Walker, Myron Butler, Kurt Carr and Trin-i-tee 5:7. The first CD - featuring the vocals of the Lillie Mack Singers – is slated for release this summer.

“Our series is focused not on artists, but on writers who produce great music, and congregations who sing and love God’s music,” says Mack Lataillade. “My grandmother, Lillie, was always in the choir. She couldn’t sing a lick, but she loved Gospel music and it’s for people like her.”

(June 4, 2008 - Source: EURweb and GospelMusic

TBGB Note: The first single release from the Lillie Mack Singalong Series, Carnell Murrell's "You Are God," is an introspective, delicate and peaceful praise and worship song backed with soft piano, strings and choir. Murrell sings tenderly but steadily builds in intensity until by the end he is in full improvisational mode. The simple melody and lyrics make this an easy song to teach a group, choir, soloist or congregation...which is the intention.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Barnes Family Reunion II (review)

The Barnes Family Reunion II
The Barnes Family
AIR Records/Malaco Records 2008

Who springs immediately to mind when thinking about gospel singing families are Motor City dynasties the Moss/Clarks and the Winans Families, and the Bay Area’s famed Hawkins Family. But let us not forget about another popular singing family, the Barnes of Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

The Barnes Family first exploded on the national gospel scene in 1983 when Bishop F.C. Barnes, pastor and founder of Red Budd Holy Church, teamed up with Sister Janice Brown on a song he wrote, “Rough Side of the Mountain,” as laid back and infectious a gospel hit as ever you’re likely to hear. The recording became a blockbuster. The duo continued to take simple gospel songs and sell them so well that they became part of the collective unconscious of the African American church.

Meanwhile, Bishop F.C.'s son Luther Barnes joined the Sunset Jubilaires, which gained tremendous popularity in the quartet community. Single-handedly, the Barnes Family transformed Atlanta International Records from an indie label into a gospel music powerhouse.

Nine years ago, the Barnes Family gathered to release a reunion album on AIR, a two-disc project that featured the relaxed, back home church feel and simple message that has come to define this singing family's style. The recently released second volume, also a two-CD set, showcases more of the individual and collective talents of Bishop F.C., Luther and the Sunset Jubilaires, Melvin and Martha Barnes, Deborah Barnes and Mark Greene & Family.

High moments on the two-disc set are a-plenty, including Bishop F.C.’s impassioned vocal fronting the Red Budd Gospel Choir’s quartet arrangement of the classic “Old Ship of Zion,” and the Sunset Jubilaires’ work on the driving “So Good to Be Here.” Wanda Morgan tears up on the vamp to “Carry Me to That Other Shore” like Diane Williams of the Warriors, and returns to lead another hand-clapper, “I Owe God Praise.” “You Keep On Blessing Me” and “It’s Your Time,” two recent Luther Barnes hits, get a fine live treatment. The “Old Revival Medley,” led by Luther and Deborah, is a delightful nine-minute tour de force that demonstrates the Barnes sound at its finest.

The project would have been even better had the microphone been turned up a little higher on the live audience, as I’m sure there was plenty of give and take going on, but it is hard to discern. Regardless, the Barnes Family Reunion II is an enjoyable listening experience from the opening notes to the closing bars.

Three and a Half of Four Stars