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A focus on the brief, soulful, funky and amazing period in the early 1970’s when Black music had no bounds, including reminding us all that it not only came from the Blues, but also the church. #gospel #soulgospel #stax #gospeltruth
If you are like me, you find that Christmas music misses the point many times, as much of it has forgotten what the reason for the season is truly all about. Recently, here in the Portland, OR area, a radio station calling itself the “best variety adult contemporary” programs nothing but Christmas music throughout the season annually. Oddly, their version of “variety” almost never includes Gospel of any kind as part of the mix.
Now, I was raised Catholic, and I am probably the farthest thing from you might call a “man of the church”. However, regardless of affiliation, I can be and am incredibly moved by religious music that speaks to my core values of charity, community, togetherness and peace, especially when that music feels like it’s coming from a deep respect and understanding of unconditional love.
It also doesn’t hurt if I can sing along, clap and dance to it, either.
Just like much of what the season has become, which seems to be about the sale of things we probably don’t need in an attempt to, probably unintentionally at times, but more often than not intentionally, draw us away from the birth of Jesus Christ and his teachings. We can argue all day about whether he was born in the spring with the birthing of the lambs, and the politics of why the date was moved; as old as I am, I wasn’t there, and here we are just before the beginning of winter to mark this occasion. Work with me here…
As soon as I turned on the station, there was the standard “O Tannenbaum”, which translates to “O Christmas Tree”. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t pine trees in the Middle East. However, since this is an educational program, let me tell you that the pines that grow in that part of the world are of the species Pinus halepensis, commonly known as the aleppo and brutia pines, look nothing like the department store tree that is commonplace. Seriously, even the foliage in these “Christmas songs” can’t get it right.
And of course, don’t get me started on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, a song about an arctic animal body shamed and bullied by his his own kind for being different until he is exploited by an old white man.
Sorry, I digress; let’s get back to Jesus.
In show 46, season one, back in February of this year during Black History Month, I did a show on The Women of Stax/Volt. In that program, the spotlight was on all of the different types of women artists on history’s greatest Soul label, based out of Memphis, TN. What wasn’t covered in depth were the multiple other labels Stax founded, including Ardent, which was a rock label, Laff, which was a comedy label, and The Gospel Truth, a religious imprint.
But this was no ordinary religious label: primarily it focused on a new sub-genre called Soul Gospel. Stax had previously flirted with the sound via the mega-selling Staples Singers, who had crossed over to the mainstream with then-in-vogue message songs, who were also a group that never gave up their gospel roots.
The most interesting thing about this period of Black Gospel wasn’t that is merged Soul and Gospel, which, just a little more than a decade prior, had caused a great deal of controversy when Ray Charles mixed Gospel call-and-response with secular R&B. What was important was when it happened.
Music of the early 1970’s was steeped in the message songs of the day, which almost every secular Black artist had recorded at the time. “Warning” songs were a staple of Black Gospel and early 70’s Soul songs as well, and the themes of reaching out to others are about as old as the first Gospel songs ever performed.
Some of these artists more than flirted with Soul and Funk music: they blurred the lines in such a way it is almost impossible to separate them. All of these music forms all derived from the Blues, and it was more than natural to bring R&B and Soul music into Black Gospel. Just remember this: almost every major Black performer of the 20th Century got their start singing in the church; Soul Gospel felt far less of a stretch than would appear on the surface.
All of these artists went on to continue performing, though some didn’t record anything else after. Regardless of the vagaries of the business of the recording industry, there was always the church. These recordings, almost all 50 years old, have been recently brought out of the vaults and are a critical and important part of the evolution not just of Black Gospel, but of all R&B music then or now.
As it states in Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.”
This program is a special dedication to Ms. Phyllis Smith of Portland, OR. She was the mother of my co-host for the three classic Black Message Tracks programs we did earlier this year, Ronald E. Smith. Sister Phyllis was a choir director in her hometown, loved Gospel, and graduated to glory two years ago on December 1st, 2018. We miss you.
- It Will Be Over Soon, 1972, The Marion Gaines Singers, This Too Is Gospel
- I’m a Child of the King, 1973, The People’s Choir Of Operation Push (solo by Marvin Yancy), The People’s Choir Of Operation Push
- He’s Mine, 1973, Jacqui Verdell, single A-side
- Hot Line to Jesus, 1973, The Rance Allen Group, Brothers
- Whatever Happened to Love, 1973, Clarence Smith, Whatever Happened to Love
- To the Other Man, 1972, The Howard Lemon Singers, Message For Today
- What’s The Matter, 1973, The Henry Jackson Company, The Henry Jackson Company
- Son of the Deacon, 1972, Sons of Truth, A Message From the Ghetto
- I’m So Glad I’m His Child, 1972, Louise McCord, A Tribute to Mahalia Jackson
- Time Shall Be No More, 1973, The Gospel Artistics, The Gospel Artistics
- Step to Jesus, 1972, Maceo Woods And The Christian Tabernacle Concert Choir, Jesus People
- Search Me Lord, 1973, Charles May and Annette May Thomas, Songs Our Father Used to Sing
- Late In The Evening, 1972, Reverend J.D. Montgomery & The Mt. Carmel Choir (solo by Joyce Clark) , God’s Newspaper
Love to you all.
Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr.
Host, Show Producer, Webmaster, Audio Engineer, Researcher, Video Promo Producer and Writer
“Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for ‘fair use’ for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.”