Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Spirit of the Church: A Celebration of Black Gospel Music

Spirit of the Church: 
A Celebration of Black Gospel Music (Vol. 1)
Green Apple Entertainment
Street Date: February 5, 2013

By Bob Marovich for The Black Gospel Blog

History was made in September 1962 when WOR-TV in New York broadcast the first episode of TV Gospel Time.  The program, whose main sponsor was Pharmaco (they made skin care products and a chewable laxative), was the first weekly television series to showcase gospel music, the first to advertise products using African American models, and the first to be syndicated nationally.

During its three-year run, TV Gospel Time, with Church of God in Christ musician Alfred Miller as music director, brought gospel stars and local choirs into the living rooms of America.  In 1963, Chicagoans could enjoy a half-hour of the locally-produced Jubilee Showcase and a half-hour of TV Gospel Time every Sunday morning before church.

For decades, TV Gospel Time episodes were the stuff of memory or confined to bootleg copies that passed hands like Led Zeppelin live concert albums.  Then Soul of the Church came along in early 2010, an eight-hour DVD collection of TV Gospel Time episodes.

Green Apple Entertainment is now issuing twelve volumes of TV Gospel Time telecasts under the Spirit of the Church series.  The episodes are drawn from the original kinescopes, and include brief histories of the main performers.  As if to answer some of the critiques of Soul of the Church, these episodes also include air dates and personnel information.

Volume 1, released last month, contains four episodes from 1964 and 1965, sans commercials.  Brother Joe May, Marie Knight, Robert Anderson, and J.J. Farley host programs filled with dynamite performances by such artists as Inez Andrews and the Andrewettes, the Soul Stirrers, Madame Edna Gallmon Cooke, and the Thompson Community Singers.  The contrast between the staid Farley and flamboyant May as program hosts is especially marvelous.

Among the highlights of Volume 1 are the Tommies backing Robert Anderson on his classic “Prayer Changes Things,” and Shirley Caesar leading the Caravans on James Herndon’s “No Coward Soldier.”  It is a treat to see as well as hear the fiery Paul Foster lead the Stirrers during the quartet’s SAR Records days.  Soloists leading their local choirs on the telecasts confirms the commonly held opinion that, back in the day, each church had its indigenous musical talent as good, if not better, than the professionals.

A bonus chapter contains two episodes of the five-minute Mahalia Jackson Sings (1961).  Although the collection advertises 1960s commercials, they were not on my DVD. 

The kinescopes are as cleaned up as kinescopes can be, so don’t expect high definition quality video reproduction.  That said, Spirit of the Church, Vol. 1 is a fascinating and captivating viewing experience, regardless of whether they rekindle memories or serve as an introduction to Golden Age artists.  Either way, the twelve volume set promises to be a video version of Gospel 101.

Four of Five Stars

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