Well, friends, it’s Sunday morning. And this uncertain old agnostic wants to introduce you to some classic black gospel music, full of fervour, power, passion — and for sure a basic part of the roots of rock and roll.
I got into this music when I was a young teenager, fascinated by black American music, and the sheer miracle of YouTube brings back the excitement. When I listen to this music now, I find myself thinking that if this has been the accompaniment for the worship in the chapel at my boarding school, or at Selby Abbey (the magnificent church in my hometown). my life might have had a spiritual element that, I s’pose, it’s lacked.
The first link today has no live performance — but the song, by the Rev. Samuel L. Kelsey and the choir and congregation of the Church of God in Christ in Washington DC, came out in Britain (on a Vocalion 78 rpm disc) when I was 16. That was more than 60 years ago, and I think it was the first gospel record I ever purchased. Discovering it again on YouTube was the sharpest kick backwards I’ve received in a while! Hang in through the sermon — when the song breaks out, urged on by a feisty trombone player, you can imagine the church, almost literally, jumping with joy!
My favourite group — and their 78s came out on the French Vogue label, if I remember rightly — was the Sensational Nightingales, and they still rock my soul. They were without question the best of the classic gospel vocal groups, and they knew how to put on a show, as you can see.
Two more modern links to warm your soul. First, the deeply-missed Solomon Burke, with the Blind Boys of Alabama and a song with a religious and secular message.
Finally, the legendary soul singer Al Green, filmed n his church at Memphis. Last Sunday, dozens of delegates to Folk Alliance attended his church, and everyone who heard him reported it was the most amazing performance. Probably just a little like this:
Celebrate Sunday, however you will!