"If you want to hear singing,
Good old gospel singing,
Go out to the programs,
Whenever they're in your town."
--"Let's Go Out to the Programs"
The Dixie Hummingbirds, 1953
(quoted in Jerry Zolten's Great God A'Mighty! The Dixie Hummingbirds Celebrating the Rise of Soul Gospel Music. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 2003)
A couple of weeks ago, I went out to see some good old-fashioned quartet singing. The artists were The Inspirational Souls of Chicago; Rev. Andrew Cheairs & the Song Birds of Grand Junction, TN; Lee Williams & the Spiritual QCs; and Harvey Watkins, Jr. and the Canton Spirituals.
I saw and heard a lot, and got a lot of bloggable fodder, so you'll read more about it in the future. But here are a couple of thoughts:
As I listened, I theorized that more than other genres of gospel music, the quartet tradition seems to demonstrate what historian Craig Werner refers to as
"the ongoing call and response between the gospel vision and what novelist Ralph Ellison called ‘the blues impulse.’. . . Where the blues men and women focus on the immediate problem of finding the strength to face another blues-torn day, the gospel vision holds out the hope that, if we stick together and keep faith with the spirit, a change is gonna come."
(This quote comes from Werner’s Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul. )
So many of the songs I heard have a bluesy, rural feel and tell stories of hard times made bearable by love and hope, faith and family. These songs tell the truth, but offer the promise of eventual joy and peace.
Zolten quotes a longtime friend of the Dixie Hummingbirds:
"The music gave us a spiritual lift," says the Reverend Gadson Graham, pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church in Paterson, New Jersey . . . ‘When they sang their songs, the Birds just made us feel like we could deal more with what we had to deal with."
So, anyway, while my hands were clapping and my toes tapping, my scholarly juices got to flowin', too.
How do you hear the dialogue between the blues impulse and the gospel vision in your favorite music (gospel or not)?