TBGB reader Will Harris contributes his own review of Cassietta Lerone Baker's book, Miss Walk Around Heaven All Day:
The legendary Cassietta George is one of the gospel industry’s most revered trailblazers. Her trademark voice is often imitated, but it cannot, and will never be, duplicated.
Sadly, Mrs. George is not known outside of the tight-knit community of her fans. She has not gotten the acknowledgement she deserves, not even being credited by Moby as the lead vocalist of the 1964 rendition of “Walk Around Heaven,” which was sampled by him for the track titled “One of These Mornings” on his 2002 album titled USA. Mrs. George has not been exposed in the same limelight as many of her contemporaries, despite making just as many, if not more, contributions to the genre as they have.
Many gospel stars do not have books written on them, and careful, in-depth studies of this genre of music and its artists is largely non-existent when compared to other areas of study. When I heard that a book was written on Mrs. George, I knew that as a gospel music historian I had to get it, and expand my knowledge as a fan of the Caravans and her.
The book, Miss Walk Around Heaven All Day, is written by Mrs. George’s nephew, Cassietta Lerone Baker of Memphis, Tennessee. As a result, the reader is getting as close of an account of Mrs. George’s life as one can get.
A friend of mine had a copy of Miss Walk Around Heaven All Day, and was nice enough to let me read it. Eager to expand my knowledge, I began to read the book and started to become disappointed in just the first few pages. The book was filled with many typos and grammatical errors, most of them rather simple in nature. Some of those typos were of gospel artists’ names (ex: Johneron Davis as “Johnrine” Davis and Gene Viale as Gene “Vila”), which seems ironic, since the author makes it known in the book that misspellings of Mrs. George’s name are seen as disrespectful. I had to go back over some sentences once or twice to try and understand what was being said because of those errors. Ideally, one only wants to have to go back over one or two sentences or phrases to understand the idea or theme being presented by the author for analytical purposes, not because of typographical and grammatical errors.
While it does ring true that Cassietta George is largely ignored by the gospel community when compared to others (the average person may know of Mahalia Jackson, but nothing of Cassietta George), some of the claims made in the book are exaggerated, or even downright false. Baker constantly mentions that Mrs. George was an original Caravan (pg. 102), and that the group disbanded in 1966 because of Mrs. George’s departure. That 1966 figure depends on what page you read, as other pages give years of 1965 and 1967 as the year the group broke up. In quoting a sentence from the book, “[a]ll you have to do is a little research for yourself and the facts will be there for you.” A little research shows that Mrs. George was an early Caravan, but NOT an original Caravan. The only Original Caravans were Ora Lee Hopkins, Elyse Yancey, and Irma Gwynn. The Original Caravans were founded in 1951 by Robert Anderson, two years before Mrs. George’s arrival.
The Caravans did not disband in the mid-Sixties because of Mrs. George’s departure. In fact, Mrs. George departed the group for a period between 1956 and 1960, and for a brief time in 1961. Despite her departure, The Caravans didn’t disband during those five years. The Caravans also recorded past the mid-Sixties for Savoy, HOB, Jewel, and Caritas Records, putting out material until 1972 with members such as Willie James McPhatter, Loleatta Holloway, Julia Mae Price Williams, and with help from former members such as James Cleveland and Dorothy Norwood.
A little research also would have revealed that the woman credited as “name unknown” in The Caravans’ group photo from circa 1954-55, erroneously referring to the group as the “Original Caravans” on page 33, is Gloria Griffin, who was more renowned for her tenure with the Roberta Martin Singers from 1957 to 1969. Another false claim made was that that Eddie Williams named the group “The Caravans”, when Robert Anderson gave the group its name in 1951 when he founded it. Plus, Williams wasn’t a member of the group until 1958, long after the group name had been well established.
Some of the material in the book reads as opinion but is presented as fact, departing from the long-held understanding that historical texts are objective and unbiased. These errors, combined with the presentation of biased material, naturally makes one question the veracity of other statements made in the book, such as the potentially hurtful comments about Mrs. George and other members of the group.
Presenting such information as truth hurts the gospel music community and its historians. Historians such as Anthony Heilbut, Cedric J. Hayes, Robert Laughton, Horace Clarence Boyer, Robert Darden, Portia Maultsby and Doug Seroff have done decades of painstaking research to ensure that the information they have presented before us in the form of books, discography listings, interviews and websites is as correct as possible. These factual errors in Baker’s book, which could have been easily cross-checked, combined with the biased statements made in the book, have the potential to hurt the credibility of gospel music historians, and even have the potential to hurt the body of Christ, as the Bible beckons us to do the best we can when we work (Colossians 3:17, 3:23).
Readers expecting to find material comparable to that found in books such as Bernice Johnson Reagon’s We’ll Understand It Better By and By or Anthony Heilbut’s classic, The Gospel Sound, will be sorely disappointed. Miss Walk Around Heaven All Day has the potential to be MUCH better than it is now. Sadly, it reads as nothing more than a literary version of a “diss track” aimed at certain members of The Caravans. Miss Walk Around Heaven All Day is inconsistent and poorly executed.
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