The Barrett Sisters Performing In March, Darden started work on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. Its mission is to identify and acquire black gospel recordings, primarily from the music’s mid-20th-century golden age, and digitize them to create a virtual encyclopedia of a musical style unparalleled in its religious zeal. Black gospel accounts for only a small fraction of Christian-gospel album sales. Old-school black gospelthe genesis of soul and the launchpad for Aretha Eir his year marks the 75th anniversary of gospel’s bedrock song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Recorded by Chicago piano man Thomas Dorsey following the death of his wife and infant son in childbirth, it typifies the genre in its calling on a higher power in time of need. While Dorsey went on to become “the father of gospel music,” Robert Darden, a former Billboard gospel music editor turned professor of journalism at Baylor University, may become its savior. How Sweet the Sound A Baylor professor sets out to preserve black gospel’s golden age By MICHAEL HOINSKI Franklin, Little Richard, Otis Redding, and Ray Charlesaccounts for an even smaller fraction. There are several reasons why this music hasn’t experienced a renaissance, as vintage jazz has over the past two decades with the conversion of time-worn vinyl into CD and MP3 formats. For one, many black gospel labels from the genre’s heyday have had their catalogs gobbled up by major labels and other corporations, in whose warehouses they languish. Meanwhile, a dozen or so worldwide collectors are hoarding much of the rest, or breaking it up by selling it off piecemeal on eBay. Also, countless undocumented, one-off recordsthe kind made to, say, help a church pay off a noteare bequeathed from grandparents to grandchildren, who neglect, trash, or donate them because they either don’t know their cultural significance or are embarrassed by the bygone music. Anyone who cares about black history or who has been redeemed by black gospelby an individual’s repentant outpouring, a family act’s fevered calls-andresponses, or a quartet’s amens between choreographed dance movescan recognize the tragedy of losing these recordings forever. “It is still the last music where genuine emotion is acceptednaked emotion that people resonate with:’ Darden says. “It’s real people, one take, doing stuff that matters to them so much … they could be making more money in rock and roll, but they’re doing it because they feel called:’ Darden’s own calling came a few years ago while working on People Get Ready! A New History of Black Gospel Music \(Continuum International Publishing from Africa to the present “musically, historically, and spiritually.” Frustration set in when he found himself writing too frequently about music he’d heard of, but hadn’t heard. This prompted him to write a separate essay on the influence black gospel has on mainstream musicians \(think Kanye West, Ben Harper, a sin” if it expired. The New York Times published the piece, and the next day Darden was inundated with queries. 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 16, 2007
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