Saturday, December 31, 2005

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Hat tip: Ella Fitzgerald

Here's an interesting article from today's Chicago Tribune describing the historical roots of the Watch Night Service and its importance in many African-American churches.

And if you're up into the wee hours of the morning, check out Bob Marovich's Gospel Memories program from 3:00 - 7:30 a.m. Central Time. You can listen to it online at This month's broadcast will feature an interview with Lorenza Brown Porter, founding member of the famous gospel ensemble the Argo Singers.

Wherever you are this New Year's Eve, be safe, moderate and reflective. I'll see you next year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sacred Jazz

A few weeks ago, Dr. M. wrote in search of sacred jazz and related resources. I directed him to this post, and he shared a playlist that he discovered, originating from a "Jazz Goes To Church" program that aired on Boston's WGBH. Go check it out--if you're wondering where you should start in building a sacred jazz collection (I see that hand!) I think several of these CDs would make a great starter kit (Ahh, the Starter Kit--another post for another day.).

Here are a few other resources. As always, write in with your comments, suggestions and leads.

I recently learned about Bending Toward the Light: A Jazz Nativity. I'm also listening to Holy Night: A Jazz Celebration of Christmas, a great addition to some of my other seasonal favorites (Oh, like you didn't know!)

Church Jazz Records is a record company whose mission is "to make available liturgy, hymns and recordings of sacred jazz, and to support worship services which incorporate sacred jazz." (Martin Marty says: "When Tecson and company bring jazz into the sanctuary, they induce awe.")

Spirit Jazz Records, another record company, exists "to bring an awareness of Christian Jazz to the national marketplace. Our goal is to place Christian Jazz along side other viable forms of worship within the Christian music industry as a normal, healthy part of the radio and retail world."

The Christian Jazz Artists Network is a networking/fellowship group for artists who perform sacred jazz, as well as jazz artists who are Christians. There are a lot of good resources here, and you can purchase music via this site. There is also a Fellowship of Creative Christian Jazz Musicians.

Bill Ward and Kersten Stevens have recently released jazz/gospel albums. Kim Jordan's CD "Full Circle" is has been nominated for Stellar Awards in the categories of Contemporary Female Artist and Instrumental Gospel Jazz CD. Here's some info about gospel jazz.

And so begins what could be a very lengthy and information-rich discussion. I know this list has only scratched at the surface of the surface. So, dear readers/lurkers, add your own lists, thoughts, et cetera.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Go, Tell It on the Mountain: Gospel Music and Christmas Music

In this discussion, two of my nerdy-girl heroes (NPR's Juan Williams and musician/music historian Dr. Horace Clarence Boyer) talk about the histories of gospel and Christmas music, and how they merged in rich and interesting ways. Delightful.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Provocative Quote From the Queen of Soul

"Gospel is and will always be an integral part of who I am. Gospel is the good news--His birth, His life, His resurrection. Gospel is all feeling and faith and about the life and techings and miracles and trials and prophecies of Jesus, a music of unshakable conviction and determination that things will get better. Its root is rock-solid optimism and the certain knowledge that God is real.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am a traditionalist when it comes to gospel, and it doesn't mean I don't appreciate the modern forms. There are many ways to praise the Lord. Different generations hear different beats. I must say, though, that when the bass lines are pure boogie and the beats are pure funk, I wouldn't call it gospel. And when it makes you want to dance and pop your fingers, believe me, it isn't gospel. When the performer's body language is funking so hard as to be religiously disrespectful, then I wouldn't call it gospel. Gospel is a higher calling; gospel is about God. Gospel is about beautiful and glorious voices and spirit-filled performances and people who are anointed. When it comes to God's music, men like Joe Ligons and James Cleveland and Claude Jeter have some of the voices I like best. I need that old-fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs gospel, the kind that will carry you as far as you need to go. As Dr. King used to say after a dynamite dinner, 'I can go around the world on a meal like that.' Well, I can go around the world on the best gospel."

--Aretha Franklin in Aretha: From These Roots by Aretha Franklin and David Ritz

Thoughts? Responses?

image credit:

Friday, December 16, 2005

Carlton Pearson on This American Life

This weekend, the radio program This American Life will feature the story of Bishop Carlton Pearson, the televangelist and gospel singer who's come under fire in recent years for embracing universalism.

I enjoy this program, and I'm very interested to see how the reporters handle the story. My hope is that it will be thoughtful and fair to all parties involved, avoiding stereotyping and caricaturing the people on different sides of this issue. We'll see. Tune in (go to TAL's Web page and click "Where to Listen" in the navigation bar on the left to get your local listing info) and we can talk about it here.

Here's some background on the story.

image credit:

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Gospel Grammy Nominations

The Recording Academy announced the nominations for the 48th annual Grammy Awards last week. You can read the list of gospel-related nominees here--scroll down to categories 51-58. Then, feel free to add your comments and predictions, if you'd like.

A Contextless Observation About Spirituals and Death in This Week's News

The spirituals appear in two of the last week's major news stories. I'm still thinking more about the ways that death, religion and the music of the elders interact in these stories, but for now:

According to several news reports, Rigoberto Alpizar (the passenger fatally shot after allegedly making a bomb threat at Miami International Airport) sang "Go Down Moses" before boarding.

At a gathering of protestors outside San Quentin State Prison demonstrating against the execution of Stanley Williams, folk singer Joan Baez sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Stellar Nominees Announced

Here's a link to the list of Stellar Award Nominees for the 2006 ceremony. I don't see too many surprises here, but may weigh in a little later.

image credit:

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bloggin' Around The Christmas Tree . . .

Here's a roundup of stories I've found interesting lately:

Advertisers Embrace the Power that Gospel Music Has To Offer (The Washington Post): This article, written by a fellow Dow Jones Newspaper Fund grad, explores the growth in the black Christian market. I've been saying for a while now that if you want to move product, get Af-Am church folk behind it.

A great quote: "In the past, the advertisers most interested in reaching this market were small church-based entrepreneurs -- Christian book authors and small-time recording artists. But as the genre evolved from Mahalia Jackson singing sweet hymns in a choir robe to singers performing holy hip-hop for sold-out concerts in huge sports arenas, corporations noticed. "

Johnny Cash's Journey Through the Other Side of Virtue (New York Times): "Johnny Cash was a deeply flawed Christian man who could look at criminals and see a part of himself in them. . .In a world increasingly reduced to good and evil, to us versus them, Johnny Cash was a man unafraid to admit that he was both. We've somehow lost sight of the truth that there can be no redemption without sin." My friends at have also posted on Cash.

Gospel Choir Finds Inspiration, Support Through Song (Gainesville Sun): This article does a nice job of capturing the joy and energy of a college gospel choir. It talks, too, about their recent involvement in a hurricane relief benefit.

Freddy Kofi Wins Best Male at GEM awards ( A rundown piece on England's recent gospel music awards. Here's one on Canada's MAJA gospel awards.

Harlem's Other Globetrotters are Here (New Zealand Herald): A profile of a community choir touring throughout the world: "There's not much singing on the tour bus of the Harlem Gospel Choir. The time they spend on the coach is for sleeping. They're like a rock band - less the excess - tramping from city to city. They do a show, pack up, move on, wake, and sing again, all the while spreading their message of 'bringing people and nations together'. "

The Measure of Sam Cooke's Triumph (NPR): Terry Gross discusses interviews biographer Peter Guralnick's about his recently released Sam Cooke bio, Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. The segment includes comments from Aretha Franklin and clips of Cooke singing gospel. Once I get my copy (Hello, Santa?) I'll post a review here. Here's the New Orleans Time Picayune's review of the book, and here's CNN's interview with Guralnick. Here's the Buffalo Times on whether or not Cooke merits the same treatment as Elvis, the subject of Guralnick's earlier work. In this interview with the Memphis Flyer, Guralnick references one of my favorite poems, Paul Lawrence Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask," comparing it to Cooke's song "Laughin' and Clownin.'"

Gospel Group Spreads Harmony (Orlando Sentinel): Profile of Brothers In Christ, a gospel group based in Florida. A quote from one of the group members: "Through gospel music, I'm able to express myself. God changed me. If God can change me, he can change anybody."

Gospel Music's Queen (Austin Weekly News): A profile of Albertina Walker, including her thoughts about dressing for church, staying faithful to the traditional gospel sound and . . .the news that there may be a Caravans reunion album next year. HOT.

The Rise and Rise of the Gospel Music Scene (The Monitor, Uganda): The growing pains faced by the growing gospel music industry in Uganda.

Gospel Stalwart Joins NCO for Thanksgiving Concert (Robertson County Times, TN): This is a cool idea: holding a Gospel Thanksgiving celebration with a chamber orchestra and a gospel artist. In this story, the orchestra is the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, and the artist is Walter Hawkins. Hawkins: "Gospel can sound like any other type of music — there's gospel rap, gospel country, everybody does different styles of gospel music," said Hawkins, who has collaborated with such classic pop notables as Van Morrison. "But the thing that makes the music timeless would be the content of the message that Jesus came to save the world. If that's not the focal point, then you're not really doing gospel."

Gata's Gone to God (Fiji Times): A profile of Fijian gospel singer Marika Gata, who shares how he lost, then found, a relationship with God.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Looking For Lyrics?

According to my site meter statistics, a lot of readers first encounter this site through search engines as they look for lyrics to their favorite songs. (You mean you didn't come for the insightful commentary and trenchant observations you find here?) has a page where you can search for lyrics and chords. If you can't find the info you need there, you can post on their message board to get some help. So happy searching, and tell them Gospel Gal sent you.

If you know of some good sites for lyrics, chords and sheet music, why don't you leave the URLs in the comments section. If we get enough, maybe I'll post a roundup entry with our collective findings.

"Now, I'm Not a Freak, But . . ."

This is one of the funniest things I've heard. Ever. Period. BlogRodent, a friend of this blog, has posted on "When Worship Goes Awry." Here's the synopsis: a rather conservative visitor to a church notices a member of the praise team doing some holy swaying during service. Believing that what he has seen is out of order (an all-purpose phrase that, let's face it, covers a host of situations), he calls the pastor to bring it to his attention, leaving a rather lengthy voicemail.

But then.

The minister of music gets behind the mixing board and turntables and makes his own response, using the man's own words.

Hilarious. Go check it out.

But . . .this does provide some fodder for discussion (you knew this was coming). As I listened (OK, and listened, and listened . . .) I thought about the gospel music/black church community and our Theology of the Body. These thoughts are still pretty unformed, but I'd be interested in thinking aloud with other members of the blogosphere.

I started thinking about the messages we receive about our bodies and movement and how that affects the way we worship and relate to one another.

On the one hand, I believe it's a good thing to involve your body in worship. We know from Scripture that David, overwhelmed with joy, danced so hard that he danced out of his clothes. He danced in a way his wife found "vulgar." He must have been shakin' it pretty hard, hmmm? Here's the interchange between David and his wife in 2 Samuel 6:

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"
21 David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor."

Sounds like David's saying, "Hey, I'm praising God, and it's not about my dignity." I've heard many a preacher attempt to whoop up a congregation by pointing out that they mustn't become too dignified and educated and sophisticated to stand up/clap/shout/"give God some praise!" (Parenthetically, this is kind of uncomfortable for the "dignified, educated, sophisticated" person who worships from a more contemplative posture, not to mention the introvert. Hell-o . . .). So I have the sense that it's important to involve ourselves physically in our worship (cue "Dancing In the Spirit," as recorded on Ron Winans Family and Friends Choir II). That means singing, clapping, swaying, dancing, rocking, etc. as we are moved.

At the same time, how do we make room for the concerns of people like the man who recorded this voicemail (and, true confessions, occasionally Gospel Gal)? His concern, though it sounds petty on his voicemail/remix, is interesting to me, because I think it says something about the tensions (*ahem*) between freedom and responsibilty. He was careful to point out that he's "not a freak," but seems to be struggling with the sense of sexuality that is present in this woman's whole-body worship.

I've occasionally been in settings where the movements, though perhaps in the context of worship, didn't seem appropriate for a church setting. I've seen gospel performances where the dancing (grinding/thrusting/shakin' like a Polaroid picture) would be a bit much, even for a family-friendly mainstream setting. And let's not even get started on some of the praise dance moves and costumes that leave me pitying the poor deacons in the front row. I mean, you'd think that with all that lame', there'd be enough to cover everyone's decolletage. Can I get a witness?

At the same time, I would hate to see the woman referred to in the message called out of line if she's simply keeping the beat by gently swaying her hips in a very natural way. I'm troubled that her movement would seem, to this man, so sexualized that it was "out of order" for church. In that case, it would seem like he was the one with issues, not her. Does that make him a weaker brother who shouldn't be caused to stumble, or someone who needs to grow into a Christian maturity that moves him beyond the ways women's bodies have been sexualized in our culture?

(Which leads to another question: aren't we still sexual beings, even in church? So how is that God-given part of us rightly expressed, or, perhaps, rightly not repressed in a worship setting?) It bothers me when, for example, churches are reluctant to include liturgical dance because they are uncomfortable with bodies and dancing, particularly women's bodies and dancing.

You can see how there are a whole host of related issues that can grow out of this rather hasty post. But then, that's what the comments section is for. There's a lot of food for thought in those three minutes of voicemail. Comment away!

Monday, November 14, 2005

In Case of Emergency, Open This Jewel Case

For a couple of weeks now, I've been eyeing a copy of Feels Good I've kept on my desk. That's correct: Take 6's latest album, which drops January 31st, 2006. You may express your envy in the comments section if you so desire. Getting my copy made for one of those moments where I considered doing a little dance around my office and humming "Can't Help Lovin' That Work of Mine" (hat tip: Show Boat).

One might think that I was simply showing admirable restraint in not jamming it into the CD player as soon as it came. But I just couldn't listen to it right away. For one thing, I wanted to create the Perfect Listening Experience before I could enjoy the album. Naturally, this would involve cleaning house from top to bottom, finishing all of the laundry, cleaning out the closets, caulking the windows for winter, balancing the checkbook, framing and hanging some artwork, making the perfect cup of coffee, and maybe lighting a candle or two (Gospel Gal occasionally has a tiny problem with perfectionism and the resulting paralysis).

But I was also afraid to end the anticipation I've felt since I heard about the forthcoming album back in June. I mean, what would I live for after I'd listened? It was almost better to just have it sitting on my desk as something to look forward to.

And then.

Last week was so busy and crazy that I knew I needed a pick-me-up like no other. A pick-me-up that didn't involve spending money or time away from all of my responsibilities (Nix on the idea of running away from home to join the circus--or running away from the circus to join a home . . .).

So I did it. I broke the glass, so to speak. I closed my office door, sipped a too-cold cup of Seattle's Best, kept working and listened.

And while I haven't yet given the album the Official, Serious Review-Worthy Listen (that comes later and involves a blank steno pad, an 0.2mm pen and hot coffee), I can say that it is a good album. Not quite as satisfying as So Cool--I really consider that album their best after So Much 2 Say--but delightful nonetheless.

So: What, for you, makes the Perfect Listening Experience? And what's the last album you couldn't wait to listen to?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Gospel Music in Poland

A cool story about how three churches in Georgia recently partnered to help train/coach the leader of the Polish gospel choir Gospel Joy in gospel music ministry. What a great example of community.

How it all got started . . .with a few friends and a couple of Alvin Slaughter CDs (!).

More on how Gospel Joy is involved in sharing the message of Christ and church-planting in Poland.

Gospel Joy's official webpage. I can read this, with a little help from a friend.

Irish Gospel?

I'm often surprised (and always amazed at God's hand in the world!) to discover a growing gospel music community in another country. I'm curious about how the music travels, and in what forms. For example, I always want to know if these new gospel lovers sing the spirituals, or if they are influenced by more contemporary forms of the genre. I'm also interested in figuring out if people are interested primarily in the sound of the music, or in the message it carries.

Writer Denis John Burke explores some of these issues through interviews with members of several gospel choirs in Ireland. The healing music of slaves' progeny is now part of God's healing work among disillusioned young Catholics. I'll weigh in later with some specifics from the article, but in the meantime, I'm glad to read this good and very interesting news.

Free Up the Gospel Deejays

In this article from the Jamaica Gleaner, Ian Boyne argues that "it is time that the radio disc jockeys 'free up' and release the hard-core gospel deejays whom they have imprisoned in Sunday morning slots marked 'gospel music.'" In Boyne's opinion, Jamaican tastemakers have failed to recognize that gospel roots reggae is of the same quality and significance as popular reggae, worlian or dancehall.

From time to time I hear, mostly in contemporary Christian circles, that the music is not up to par and can't compete with mainstream music. There seems to be a "knock-off" stigma, and I'm not sure if it has more to do with the actual music or the way the music is marketed ("She's like a Christian [fill-in-the-name-of-pop-tart.])".

I can't remember hearing anyone describe gospel music this way. Maybe that's because so many mainstream R&B/soul artists get their start in the church, singing gospel music. Maybe people don't necessarily compare gospel and R&B/soul, because the roots and sounds are so intertwined. I don't think the lack of "knock-off stigma" has much to do with lack of awareness, as seems to be the case with the Jamaican tastemakers Boyne addresses. I would imagine that many R&B/soul music aficionados would also have some awareness of the gospel scene, although that may be changing. Hmmm. Thoughts? Speculations? Comment, one and all.

Kirk Whalum, Roaring Lamb

In this interview with Ed Gordon of NPR's News and Notes, saxophonist Kirk Whalum speaks about his faith, his music and his career.

Writer Bob Briner coined the phrase "Roaring Lambs" to describe people like Whalum: Christians who make a difference in the world by using their God-given gifts in mainstream culture, rather than retreating into the Christian subculture.

Whalum's gospel/Christian albums include Hymns in the Garden, The Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter 1, and The Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter 2.

Image credit:

Monday, October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

Mrs. Rosa Parks died today.

Tonight, I'm going to dig out my copy of Verity's tribute album and spend a few moments remembering this strong, beautiful woman who chose to use her voice to make a difference in the world. Or I may, instead, sit with the silence and remember her quiet strength.

The elders are passing, and we must learn their stories, then learn from their stories. We must learn from their courage, then use that courage to heal the brokenness of our world.

"I am leaving this legacy to all of you ... to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a fulfillment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die — the dream of freedom and peace."
--Rosa Parks, 1913-2005

Learn more about Parks at the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development: (Update: Several people have come looking for, which won't work. It's

A few years ago, Rosa Parks was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most important people of the century.

"It's Got to Come Out:" Shirley Horn, 1934-2005

"I think when I was born, it's like God said, 'Music!,' and that was it. All my life, that's all I knew. It's in me, it's jammed up and it's got to come out."

--jazz vocalist and pianist Shirley Horn (1934-2005), quoted by Richard Harrington in his tribute "The Innate Tempo Of Shirley Horn," Even if you're not a jazz fan, read it for his lush, evocative prose. Lovely.

Harrington also recommends several albums as an introduction to Horn's work.

Gospel folks often make statements like this--I'm thinking of Take 6's "Something Within Me" (So Much 2 Say), the quartet song "It's In Me (And It's Got to Come Out)," and Cross Movement's "Driven" (Holy Culture). These songs make me think about the passions that are deep within all of us--passions that won't let us go, no matter how hard we try to outrun them. Passions to change the world or help those in need, the desire to master a body of knowledge or see the fulfillment of a dream.

To use Horn's words, what's the word that God seems to have written on you heart? The dream or passion that's "jammed up and got to come out?"

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Time to Love

I'm blogging to Stevie Wonder's new album, A Time to Love. I'm on track one, "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved," which features the peerless Kim Burrell. Oh, man. If this song is any indication, I'm going to like this album much more than Conversation Peace, which I thought was, well, OK. The song has a prophetic edge to it, and blends an orchestral sound with African drums, beatbox, a choir (arranged by Kirk Franklin) and Burrell's rich, agile, hint-of-rasp melismatics. Gorgeous.

You can hear "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved" and a couple of other full-length tracks from A Time to Love on this page, which features Farai Chideya's interview with Wonder.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sit a Spell . . .

From what I can tell, many of my gospelgal readers find this site while they're looking for something else. Here are a few recent keyword searches that landed folks here:

2005 gospel children songs: Hmm. Do you cry when children sing, too?

"thompson community singers" reunion choir: No news yet. But I've been keeping my ears open, and you'll be the first to know when I hear something.

negro spiritual music lyrics sheet music: I've usually got something about the first three here, but not much related to the second three.

God blocked it he wouldn't let it be so: Try here.

lyrics to the gospel song whatever it takes: Try: "Whatever it takes/ I know I can make it through/ Whatever my trials/ I know I can conquer them too/ If I hold out/ Keep the faith/ Stand fast and never stray/ Whatever it takes /I can make it through." Hope that helps.

did one of the winans brother of cece winans die?: Yes, sadly, Ronald passed away in June. CeCe talks about singing at his funeral here.

marvin gaye the activist: Here you go. Enjoy.

gospel music: Hey, that's what I'm talkin' bout.

However you got here, welcome.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Ramsey Lewis on Crossing Genres

"In music, I cross genres very easily because all music, no matter what genre or style it comes from, consists of a great melody or a great sequence or harmonic changes--hopefully both! And you just have fun improvising and creating off of that palette. And that palette can come from anywhere. And being that alll three genres were part of my early days--first classical, then gospel, then jazz--those three allow me to go in different directions on different pieces."

--Ramsey Lewis, in Chicago Jazz Magazine, September/October 2005

Charlie Haden on the Spiritual Dimension of Music

"The hymns especially [gave me a sense that music has a spiritual dimension]. . . .[W]hen I was around nine years old, I was the only child out of six kids [my mother] would take to the African American church in Springfield [Missouri]. We would quietly go in the entrance, and we would sit in the back row, and we would just listen to the choir. It was one of the most beautiful things that I've ever experienced in my life, to hear the spirituals and the gospel music I'll never forget that. Yes, I had a feeling right away that there was spirituality in music. When you talk about jazz, I believe 85 to 90 percent of improvisation in jazz is spiritual. You can go to school and learn the academics of music, and the fundamentals of scales and chords and composition, but when you start to play, you tell a story to people and take them on a journey. It's all about spirituality."

--Jazz Bassist Charlie Haden, to Terry Gross in All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Am I Really The Only Critic. . .

. . .who thought The Gospel was a pretty good movie? Check out more reviews on

Gospel, Remixed

Tonight I bought Motown Remixed, a collection of Motown classics, well, remixed. NPR's Oliver Wang reviewed it here. The collection includes hits like "I Want You Back," "Let's Get It On," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," and "War."

That got me to thinking: What gospel classics would you most love to hear remixed, reworked, or even "re-performed" with new voices? What's the best gospel remix or "skate mix" you've ever heard? What songs are just too perfect to be remixed?

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Gospel

Let me add myself to the chorus of voices that are encouraging gospel music lovers to go see The Gospel this weekend. I liked the film. Although it's being compared to other recent films starring African-Americans, I think it's far superior to Diary of a Mad Black Woman and has broader appeal than Woman, Thou Art Loosed. And unlike The Fighting Temptations, it doesn't treat church, faith and church folk like jokes or caricatures. It's a movie about a church, but it didn't feel "churchy" to me. The gospel music performances are cool, but they don't interfere with the story. And I like the way church and faith are treated, for the most part. But you can read my thoughts here, and add your own in the comments section.

I've been a bit surprised by the tone of some of the other reviews I've read. Many of the movie critics I've read seem to have thought the movie was about gospel music, rather than about the gospel story. The writers didn't seem to have much knowledge of the church, church people, or the story of the prodigal son.

It's true, the movie isn't perfect, but I think it's very good, and one worth supporting. I don't usually say things like that, but I encourage you to go see it. And go this weekend, so there will be a big opening weekend impact. Seriously. Stop reading now. Go see the movie. Take some friends or your church group. Shoo.

Here's the movie's official website.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Fantasia on Gospel Music and Christian Community

"Gospel music is truly special because the gospel artists find so many ways to express their love and appreciation for Jesus. Gospel singers have the gift to be able to put the passion of loving God into their music in a way that touches people who don't even believe in God . . .What I have always loved about gospel music is that it takes from the black experience, and so the music has a feeling that touches everyone who has ever known about pain and struggle, even if you are not saved. The amazing thing that gospel music does is touch people's spirits with all the truth, drama, and emotion that come from livin.' . . .

"By being in church, I saw how important people are to me. When you're in the church you get a chance to see people going through every period of their lives. At church you see how fragile people can be. You see people who are happy and thanking God for blessings, but you also see people who have just lost their child or husband or have been diagnosed with a deadly disease. You see the most faithful people angry and questioning God's love. Other times, you see people who are wantin' one more chance and they are worshipping him so strongly you can taste their desperation. Church folks have taught me everything I know about life and happiness and sorrow, good and evil, riches and poverty. This has given me a loving view of people and that is why, to this day, I never meet a stranger. I have a loving attitude about everyone who I meet . . ."

--Fantasia Barrino in Life is Not a Fairy Tale

Kirk Franklin: Hero

As promised, here's a link to my review.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Another Example of Mourning . . .

. . .Can be heard on Kirk Franklin's new album, Hero--track number 14, "Why." I'll post a link to my review tomorrow. In the meantime, you can listen to it here and let me know what you think (requires registration). It's a jeremiad in the tradition of Marvin Gaye or, more recently, Jill Scott's "My Petition."

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Yes . . .and No

Something I recommend:

Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia by Bil Carpenter. This is an amazing, exhaustive resource. And the entries on Dorinda Clark-Cole and Kierra "KiKi" Sheard quote interviews I've done.

Something I do not recommend:

Reading the whole thing in one sitting, when you have to be at work the next day.

Live and learn . . .

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Music to Mourn To

In this post, author Mark Anthony Neal quotes a sermon by his friend Rev. Dr. Maurice Wallace. Here's an especially gripping excerpt. Emphasis and paragraph breaks mine:

"I am gravely worried, about what I perceive, as a conflict, a contradiction, if you may, between our increasing religiosity, on the one hand, and our decreasing relevance and vitality to change the world’s conditions, on the other hand. I am troubled, this morning, grievously troubled, by the popularity of a commercial Christianity that romanticizes our faith for the sake of capital campaigns, political favor and box office receipts, and misrepresents the journey as fast and furious, when the way is oft-times arduous and long-winded.

It is disturbing, beloved, that the measure of our faith today is so often in the spectacle-charm of charismatic display that charisma now trumps compassion as the essential element, the sine qua non, of Christian identity in the most popular churches in America today. Worship is so singularly worshipped, and bells-and-whistle praise so fashionable now, that the experience of church today is all celebration, and no sympathy at all. Which is not to say that celebration is incompatible with worship but any man who only ever celebrates, who treats life as an interminable party, has no time or inclination to contemplate the extreme weight of black urban life and loss incomprehensibly endured in Louisiana and Mississippi last week. His humanity, and the human prospect for godliness within him, is thus diminished by his indifference. The very thing that would realize his divine potential, the praise craze of this current age helps him, tragically, to avert. It is a reflex of the religious I believe I comprehend, but can’t quite understand. . .

. . .Somehow, we’ve lost sight of the importance of mourning. Of the redemptive value of sackcloth and ashes. Somehow, we’ve been mis-educated, theologically misinformed, led away from of our tradition, and have come to regard mourning only as a sign of hopeless resignation and sinking sadness But I want to suggest that mourning is more than resignation; in mourning is the potential for redress and resistance. It is not the white flag of surrender it appears to be to uninitiated eyes. But it is a passionate protest against the tyranny of death. Mourning is a sit-in against loss, a public petition that will not keep silent. Mourning is the spectacle refusal of indifference, apathy, chauvinism, and injustice. . . .

. . .So let us mourn with those who mourn. Weep with those who weep. Cry aloud with anguish at what has befallen us at the gulf coast. For it is only by God’s inscrutable grace that what has happened miles from here, did not happen precisely here. . . "

I've written about this before, but Wallace's sermon provides another opportunity to discuss this question: Does gospel music, in its present contemporary form, provide music for mourning? Prophetic music that serves as a much-needed jeremiad for the conditions in which we find ourselves, or as the timeless music that reminds us that we have tribulation in the world? Modern-day spirituals?

Although I have a pretty extensive collection of current gospel music, the best example I can think of right now is from Isaac Freeman's album Beautiful Stars: "Don't Drive Your Child Away." Another sort-of possibility is Natalie Wilson' & SOP's "Liquid Prayer" from The Good Life. The best I've heard recently is Phanatik's "Dirgy Dancing" from The Incredible Walk. Go. Get. It. I enjoy the work of the Cross Movement artists to begin with, but I think this song is pure genius.

Anyway: What songs do you think provide music to mourn to? What are some ways we can encourage the gospel-loving and gospel-making community to provide this music for us? I'm listening . . .

Happy 80th, Mr. B.B. King!

The great B.B. King celebrated his 80th birthday September 16. Here's a report from NPR's News and Notes, and an interview that ran on Fresh Air.

King's gospel albums include Songs of Praise, Favorite Gospel Hymns and B.B. King Sings Spirituals, which includes "Jesus Gave Me Water." My current B.B. King favorite? "I Like to Live the Love I Sing About," which you can see on B.B. King: Live in Africa.

Interview: Marty Stuart

Here’s an interview with Marty Stuart that aired on NPR this week. Marty talks to All Things Considered about gospel and southern gospel music, family harmony, the Staple Singers, grace and redemption and what it’s like to play Pop Staples’ guitar.

I'm really enjoying the warmth, earthiness and honesty of Stuart's latest album, Souls' Chapel. And the liner art is great, too. Enjoy.

This article from the Chicago Tribune tells more of Stuart's story and includes quotes from Mavis Staples. In my favorite section, Stuart shares part of his testimony:

"'I left home when I was 12 years old, and by the time I hit my early 40s, I had developed a fantastic appetite for a rock 'n' roll lifestyle,' Stuart says. 'It started out as fun, and somewhere along the way it became a problem. Well, I got arrested for it three years ago, went and got help, meant business about it. And somewhere along the way, I did what I knew I shouldn't do.'

Stuart, after all, says he had been clean and sober for two years, but after the 2003 death of his hero and mentor Johnny Cash, he briefly fell off the wagon. 'Both of the arrests were very public,' he says. 'I was embarrassed; I was in shock. Especially the second time it was like, how did this happen? We were in the middle of bringing ["Souls' Chapel"] to life. I just felt totally unqualified; I felt totally powerless, totally worthless. And I felt like a pure hypocrite that would stand up there and sing about Jesus, at the same time coming out of a jail cell. . . .' At the same time, it was just a great reminder of how serious the problem is, how you can never take your eye off the problem. But once again, God had a chance to do some work in my life. He sent a couple of angels.'

After Stuart was released from jail, he played a gig at FitzGerald's in Berwyn, and Mavis and Yvonne Staples drove to the roots-music club to surprise him. The two presented him with a gift: Pops Staples' oldest guitar. 'When they gave me that guitar, the worthlessness went away,' Stuart says. 'Being handed Roebuck Staples' guitar was a mighty gesture. I took it as a divine gesture.' 'We all cried that night,' recalls Mavis Staples. 'It was like the Lord sent us over there to lift up our baby brother.'"

What a moment! I love stories like this. To me, they serve as reminders that God uses imperfect people, and that he never gives up on us. He allows us to share in his work on earth, and he never, never thinks of us as worthless. And occasionally, he allows us to give that same gift of encouragement to others. May we be his hands and feet. Amen.

image credit:

Friday, September 23, 2005

It's A Celebration!

Well, who knew? Tomorrow marks one year of blogging on I don't know how you plan to observe the day, but I'm going to spend the day doing some research for an assignment about one of my favorite songs of all time, "Oh Happy Day."

The appropriate gift for a first-year anniversary is paper or a clock. I decided to go with a wireless card, the better to keep on bloggin'.

Thanks to my readers and lurkers. Let's go for another year, shall we?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Love and Inspiration

" . . .[D]on't ever give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong."
--Ella Fitzgerald

Friday, September 02, 2005

Memoirs of a Music Man

In this article from The Washington Post, former music critic David Segal writes about the great Live Concert Moment. I'd like to offer a disclaimer--Segal's article doesn't come from a Christian worldview, and there's some language here--but I thought it was really interesting and offers a lot of food for thought.

A few questions: What's the best Live Concert Moment you've ever experienced at a gospel concert? How can gospel artists balance the need for a well-planned show with the need to be open to the spontaneous and unpredictable move of God's Spirit? (Whoo . . .ministry and industry. . .Here we go . . .) What does good showmanship look like in a gospel context? For example, how do you put on a good show, but avoid making a show of the gifts of the Spirit?

I've been in concert environments where the shouting and speaking in tongues seemed very choreographed. It's difficult to know what to think in these situations, especially because they don't take place in the sort of ministry environment that can be interpreted by a church or pastor, or within a denominational context. It's not quite the same thing as being in someone's church, or in a service that is being guided by a trusted spiritual leader who has a set of identifiable beliefs that guide a particular church ("Well, they are (fill-in-the-name-of-Denomination), so that expression tends to guide their worship style."). So what does discernment look like in situations like this? Where's the line that is or isn't to be crossed?

Comment away!

The Spirituals Project Featured on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

If you missed the recent airing of the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program featuring Dr. Arthur Jones and The Spirituals Project, check it out here. It's great to see this worthy project getting some attention.

Dr. Arthur Jones image credit:

Gospel Memories--and Hurricane Relief

This weekend, Bob Marovich's "Gospel Memories" Broadcast on Chicago's 88.7 WLUW (2:00-6:30 a.m. CST, live webcast) will feature Gulf Coast Gospel--vintage gospel music from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Marovich's intention is to honor those affected by the hurricane. Bob's blog also features some info regarding fundraisers the gospel community will hold to help affected GMWA members, including Bishop Paul Morton, whose church and home were affected. These fundraisers are currently in the planning stages, but I will provide updates as I receive them.

Bob will also include a musical tribute to Cora Martin-Moore, the daughter of Sallie Martin.

Cracking Me Up

"Excuse Me (If I Sound Like Marvin Winans)" by comedian Broderick Rice, available on Gospel Skate Jams, Vol. 1 (Malaco). Absolutely hilarious--and a featuring an affectionate, spot-on imitation of Winans by Rice. I've played this track over and over, and it cracks me up, every time.

Broderick Rice image credit:

Monday, August 22, 2005

Sting on Music, Mystery and Silence

“ . . .When you watch a musician play—when he enters that private musical world—you often see a child at play, innocent and curious, full of wonder at what can only be adequately described as a mystery—a sacred mystery, even. Something deep. Something strange. Both joyous and sad. Something impossible to explain in words. I mean, what could possibly keep us playing scales and arpeggios hour after hour, day after day, year after year? Is it some vague promise of glory, money, or fame? Or is it something deeper?

“. . .Songwriting is the only form of meditation that I know. And it is only in silence that the gifts of melody and metaphor are offered. To people in the modern world, true silence is something we rarely experience. It is almost as if we conspire to avoid it. Three minutes of silence seems like a very long time. It forces us to pay attention to ideas and emotions that we rarely make any time for. There are some people who find this awkward, or even frightening.

“Silence is disturbing. It is disturbing because it is the wavelength of the soul. If we leave no space in our music—and I’m as guilty as anyone else in this regard—then we rob the sound we make of a defining context. It is often music born from anxiety to create more anxiety. It’s as if we’re afraid of leaving space. Great music’s as much about the space between the notes as it is about the notes themselves. A bar’s rest is as important and significant as the bar of demi-, semi-quavers that precedes it. What I’m trying to say here is that if ever I’m asked if I’m religious, I always reply, ‘Yes, I’m a devout musician.’ Music puts me in touch with something beyond the intellect, something otherworldly, something sacred.”

Source: Bassett, Sam, and Sandra Bark (Eds.). Take This Advice: The Most Nakedly Honest Graduation Speeches Ever Given. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2005.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

He’s Got Kitty's Litter Box In His Hands

Not long ago, I settled into my favorite corner of the couch with a book. I’d turned on the TV for background noise, but wasn’t paying it much attention until I heard a version of “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” Kind of a cool thing, right? How often do you hear a spiritual on TV? And then I glanced up and saw that it was an ad. And not for, I don’t know, anything vaguely spiritual. Or related to the song.

It seems our friends at Fresh Step believe that upon hearing this song, we’ll be compelled to rush out and purchase their Premium Cat Litter.

That whirring noise you hear would be the ancestors spinning in their unmarked graves.

I guess next a cosmetics company will be hawking lotion with “There is a Balm in Gilead” in the background. And even if that did happen, they’d be a step ahead of a company that links “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” with kitty litter.

Seriously, whose idea was that? Did some young idea person struggling to come up with a good way to sell kitty litter (a product that I imagine really sells itself) figure What better way to convince people to buy than to play a catchy spiritual tune in the background as kitty paws around in his litter box?

The commercial left me with a couple of questions. First, what was the rationale for this—the thought process someone went through in order to believe this was a good idea?

Young Idea Person: “Sir, how about this? I can’t think of a better way to sell our scoopable cedar clumping cat litter than to tweak this song a little bit. No doubt the masses, intrigued by our use of this familiar tune, will rush out to pick up their own box of premium, paw-activated odor control with the natural freshening and deodorizing power of real cedar.”

Sir: “Great work, Johnson! With a mind like yours, you’ll go far here.”

Second series of questions: How many people approved this idea before it made it to TV? I mean, I assume marketing research is involved as well as test groups and folks who schedule production and camera operators, et cetera. Did no one think, “Hey, maybe this isn’t a good idea, guys?” You’ve got to wonder.

It’s true, we all deserve a fresh house and a happy cat. And people can hawk their wares using whatever clever gimmicks they can come up with. But this use of gospel music just feels strange to me. It is, after all, sacred music—or music that was used largely for a sacred purpose.

I’ve had a few opportunities to think about this lately. I’m sure, by now, many readers have seen the new AquaVelva commercials. As you know, AquaVelva aftershave keeps your face firm, toned and fit. But is it just me, or does that commercial sound like an Andrae Crouch song? Again, it just feels kind of strange. And not long ago, I saw a fairly moving commercial for the Curves fitness franchise that used the gospel song “This Little Light of Mine.”

I think this kind of use of gospel music points out one of the downsides of gospel music’s acceptance in the larger culture. As it’s become increasingly accessible and popular, some of the sense of its original purpose. I've reported and written on that issue here. I love the music, and I believe in sharing it with people. Despite my joking, I can’t imagine the kitty litter folks saying, “Hey, I bet this music, which people used for a sacred purpose, would be great for selling kitty litter.” I’d imagine the thought process probably went something more like, “This popular song, which people recognize because they sang it around the campfire at Girl Scout camp or wherever, is a hook we can use to sell our product.”

I recently spoke to Dr. Horace Clarence Boyer, one of the preeminent scholars of the Negro spiritual, on this issue. When I mentioned the AquaVelva commercial, he commented that today, the term “gospel” refers to a musical sound that people relate to as often as it does a specific message As a result, people sometimes disconnect it from its original purpose, and it becomes popular music or folk music:

“ . . .Gospel music is a song, but it’s also a style. I’ve heard people say ‘give me a gospel feel on that.’ When you go to buy a synthesizer, they have a gospel rhythm—a gospel beat that you can punch in. Because they have a jazz beat, and they have a rock and roll, and a country beat. Gospel is in there, so that proves to you that gospel is popular music. . .People like gospel—and what they want from gospel is not the wonderful singing quality of a Mahalia Jackson or a Marian Williams. They want the wild, the raw . . .it actually makes people feel good about themselves for a minute, because there is something uplifting about that.

“[But] I came by this music as a confession of faith, and as a statement of my religious beliefs. . .In the 1950s we were working hard to get people, particularly educated black people, and white people to like this music, because we thought it deserved a larger audience. And so, we took it to non-sacred places, thinking that we would take non-sacred places, and make them sacred. And instead of making those places sacred, those places took the music and used it the way that they wanted to. So, we initiated it, and now we’ve lost control. . . It’s our fault, and I’m saying our fault meaning a bad thing only because it was a religious music and I’m still having difficulty seeing it used outside of that space.”

Dr. Boyer cites the Jewish and Native American traditions as ones that are more protective of their sacred or tribal musics.

So here’s what I’m wondering: Is it possible to protect the integrity of religious music and share it with others at the same time? Can sacred music be shared without ending up in kitty’s litter box? To be honest, I really hope so. I believe that music has an amazing power to bring people together. Perhaps as we learn to be better neighbors and respectful cultural tourists, we can partake of each others’ traditions without trampling them. Or selling each others’ cultural artifacts.

In the meantime, a quote from Howard Thurman on the spirituals, excerpted from his Ingersoll Lecture on the Immortality of Man at Harvard Divinity School, April 14, 1947:

“What . . .is the fundamental significance of all these interpretations of life and death? What are these songs trying to say? They express the profound conviction that God was not done with them, that God was not done with life. The consciousness that God had not exhausted His resources or better still that the vicissitudes of life could not exhaust God’s resources, did not ever leave them. This is the secret of their ascendancy over circumstances and the basis of their assurances concerning life and death. The awareness of the presence of a God who was personal, intimate and active was the central fact of life and around it all the details of life and destiny were integrated.”

--Source: Fluker, Walter Earl, and Catherine Tumber, eds. A Strange Freedom: The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.

Or, He’s got the whole world in His hands.

Monday, August 15, 2005

And That, Young Lady, Is What You Get For Googling Yourself

Oh, good grief.

I cannot be the only person who occasionally enters the name of her blog into search engines, just to see what the chatter is.

Today, though, I'm feeling the low-grade (ok, in my case, high-grade) dread you feel when you realize that you're not the only person with your name out there.

There's another gospelgal out and about--much love to her--who occasionally posts on the GospelCity messageboards.

Just for the record, that's not me.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Jazz and The Christian Life

blogging to: Mary Lou's Mass, Mary Lou Williams

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the connections between jazz and gospel, and exploring the idea of jazz as a way of thinking, living and viewing one's life with Christ.

A couple of years ago, at a reading/signing of his book, This Far By Faith, Juan Williams described the way African-American Christians express their faith as "jazz-like," and that made perfect sense to me (My friend and colleague Ed Gilbreath discusses this idea with Williams in this interview.). It was one of those moments where things just clicked. And when I kind of wished that I'd thought of that Grand Idea first, but I was also glad it's out there to explore.

Since then, that idea has been simmering in my mind. I know I've got some thoughts developing along these lines, and I'm trying to be patient as they cohere. John Coltrane said it this way: "When there's something you don't understand, you have to go humbly to it. You don't go to school and sit down and say, 'I know what you're getting ready to teach me.' You sit down there and you learn. You open your mind. You absorb. But you have to be quiet, you have to be still, to do all this.' (quoted in Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church)

I can't be that still, though. So I'm doing some reading in the meantime--most of the time, that's as close as I get to stillness. Here are some of the interesting things I'm discovering along the way:

Musician and Presbyterian Minister Bill Carter on joining theology and jazz:

"I've always been concerned about integrating the various pieces of my life, especially since I was called to ministry. The Reformed tradition speaks strongly to the head, the intellectual part of who I am. It's very text-oriented. But when we smashed our statues and took the arts out of our churches during the Reformation, we lost something. Theoretical truth must also be embodied. . .Jazz and other new, non-traditional forms of liturgical music join the text of the Scripture and the church's historic confessions with the tune of human experience."

In this article, Carter goes on to compare the process of learning jazz from the greats to studying under great preachers who combine the historic confessions with human experience. He also talks about understanding spriritual gifts, using jazz in worship, and his desire to "talk together about the whole business fo integration between tradition and innovation, between Scripture and experience, between text and tune . . .for me, jazz is a model of how to do that. I thought for so long that there was a clear line between the secular and the sacred; but now I believe that if the whole earth is really the Lord's, no experience is outside the sacred."

Here, Carter describes additional parallels between jazz, life and faith:

"The act of playing jazz, like daily life, is an informed risk," Carter says. "Improvisation happens through nimble fingers, serious training in music theory and form, and a willingness to jump into uncharted territory. It takes disciplined, technical preparation to play this music, and it also requires the freedom to take enormous risks. You work hard to lift the music from the page and release it into the air."

"Yet there is always a safety net of grace," he adds. "If a musician hits a sour note or flubs a rhythm, it cannot be replayed, only forgiven. There will be another opportunity to play better notes on another day. These basic characteristics of jazz make it particularly congenial to the life of Christian faith."

What a feast for thought!

Nelson Boschman elaborates on the idea of a theology of jazz in Christian worship in this paper. You'll need Acrobat to read it, and you can download that here. The paper itself is a lovely work, and the bibliography is a great list of resources to study and digest for yourself.

More Information/Other Resources:

Swing a New Song to the Lord: Resources for Jazz Worship. This well-titled jazz hymnal is a great starting place for music ministers who want to integrate jazz music into their worship services.

Here's a link to Bill Carter's blog.

St. Peter's Church in NYC is known for its jazz ministry, which includes jazz vespers every Sunday at 5 p.m. Here's an article about the history of the church's jazz ministry, and it mentions October's Jazz and the Church Conference.

Ann Pederson's God, Creation, and All That Jazz: A Process of Composition and Improvisation explores some of the ideas we're talking about here.

Dr. Kirk Jones teaches a course at Andover Newton Theological School that explores "the jazz of preaching." Last year, he published a book by that title, and you can hear him read an excerpt of it here.

Rejoicensemble, an acappella group, explores the idea of Sacred Jazz on the group's website and on a recent CD, Strong and Graceful Oaks.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

To Study War No More: For Tim Hines (1984-2005)

I’m gonna lay down my burdens
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside.

I’m gonna lay down my burdens
Down by the riverside
To study war no more.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of our family died of injuries he received in Iraq. I did not know Tim Hines personally, but my parents and younger siblings remember him. He was my mother’s library aide, and my father remembers clowning with his mom on the sidelines as Tim and my brother played basketball. My younger sister is just a year older than Tim’s young widow.

At times like this, I am deeply comforted by the spiritual “Down By the Riverside.” When I was a little girl, I loved to hear this song at church. This was because my father, a deacon, would sing this song with my Uncle Chuck, and the whole church would join in.

Standing in front of the altar in their dark deacon suits, Dad and Uncle Chuck would trade verses and ad-lib around one another with such ease and joy that I really did think they were blood brothers:

I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside.

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
To study war no more.

As much as I enjoyed this spiritual, I don’t believe I understood it until I became an adult, facing the world on my own in college and afterward as a twentysomething. During these years, I’ve come to see that all of us are studying war somehow. Whether it’s nursing a broken heart, searching for answers to long-offered prayers, figuring out how to make ends meet or watching as the world around us becomes more and more confusing, we all study war.

We are all looking for ways to make our way through intact, hoping our scars will heal and wanting to believe that there is a purpose behind our existence—and that we’ll see more than a hint of it here, on this side of the river.

My hope is that all of us, whatever our feelings about war, can come together around this great belief: That one day, all of us will lay our burdens down, once and for all. Let us gather around each other, offering sweet comfort and the assurance that one day, we will study war no more.

Well, I’m gonna put on my long white robe
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside.

Gonna put on my long white robe
Down by the riverside
To study war no more.

Rest peacefully, Tim.

To make a donation to Tim’s family and for his unborn son, due in August, please do so in care of the Timothy Hines Memorial Fund c/o any Fifth-Third Bank or to Impact a Hero. Condolences may be sent by visiting

Read more about Tim here.

Image credit:

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pete Seeger Hearts Strawberry Shortcake

Blogging to: Universal United House of Prayer, Buddy Miller.

Until today, I knew very little about Pete Seeger--mostly that he sang songs like "If I Had a Hammer" and "We Shall Overcome." I knew that he is a folk singer and activist who sang about the Civil Rights Movement. (In this article, he compliments evangelicals on the way they encourage everyone to sing in church--and the spirituals and gospel music for the repetition that also makes them singable.) But now, thanks to my friends at and the Dallas Morning News, I also know that Pete Seeger makes great strawberry shortcake. Ain't a' that good news? (Seriously! It is!)

Who knew that I could combine my loves of folk music and my favorite dessert of all? According to Pete, he makes the best strawberry shortcake in the world. And his Beacon Sloop Club holds a strawberry festival in New York every year, so it's possible to test his theory for yourself.

Here's his recipe, courtesy of the Dallas Morning News and reported by Jeffrey Weiss.


Just before dinner (not earlier), rinse and hull 2 quarts of fresh, ripe strawberries. Then slice about 1 ½ quarts of the fruit into large chunks. (Crushing the berries would make the sauce too juicy.) Set the remaining whole strawberries aside to use later as decoration. If desired, sweeten the sliced fruit to taste. (A few tablespoons of sugar or honey should sufficiently please your palate.) "Put in icebox," Pete writes.

Next, whip 1 pint of heavy cream, adding ½teaspoon of vanilla and a little sweetener (Toshi, Pete's wife, used honey at the festival) to taste as the cream becomes lighter. Then chill the topping.

Now, with clean fingers, combine 2 ½ cups of unbleached flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, 3 tablespoons of sugar and ½teaspoon of salt with 6 tablespoons of butter until it is smooth – no lumps. (At this year's festival, the flour was half whole-wheat.) Set the mixture aside while you grease a cookie sheet.

With that done, you can relax and eat your dinner – but preheat the oven first. You'll want it to be medium-hot (425 to 450 F) before you put the biscuits in. About 20 minutes before you plan to serve the dessert, go back to the kitchen.

Next, quickly stir a scant cup of milk into the flour mixture. The consistency of the batter should be much thicker than that for a cake, but not as dry as typical rolled biscuit dough. Spoon the batter onto the cookie sheet in eight (2-inch) lumps, and pop the works into the preheated oven.
The biscuits generally take 15 to 20 minutes to bake. When the dough has turned golden brown, take the shortcakes out of the oven and carry them to the table. ("Now comes the time when seconds count!" Pete writes.) Working as fast as you possibly can, slice a piping hot biscuit, insert a pat of butter between the halves and place the cake in a serving bowl. While you're slicing the next biscuit, have a friend dollop a generous spoonful of the sliced strawberries on top, followed by a great blob of whipped cream and a garnish of whole strawberries.

Then eat the treat right away.
"Now you know why Clearwater Strawberry Shortcake is the best in the world! And why most restaurants cannot serve it," Pete writes.

Freedom songs and strawberry shortcake? Does it get any better than this?

Image credit:

Sunday, July 17, 2005

'Independents' Day . . .and the House of Blues

If you’re ever passing through Southern California, take a few minutes and stop in at Rhino Records in Claremont Village. (No, that is not Gospel Gal waving from the door.)This independent record store (across the street from a neat Folk Music Center and some fun novelty shops) features a broad and quirky selection of new and used CDs, including a vinyl section. When I visited over Independence Day weekend, I found a couple of gospel gems:

Mary Lou’s Mass, Mary Lou Williams. This amazing woman—and this interesting, challenging and mind-broadening jazz mass—deserve their own blog entry. It’s a-comin’.

Live In Chicago, Shirley Caesar. This album—which includes favorites like “Feel the Spirit” and “Hold My Mule”—features the late Rev. Milton Brunson and the Thompson Community Singers. The Thompson Community Singers were one of the first widely known mass choirs (If you’d like to get into an esoteric debate, pose that question—who was first--among a group of gospel lovers). They disbanded fairly recently—I think the last performance was in 2004—but there’s been some whispering about a reunion album.

Anyway, if you want to know what people mean when they refer to “the Chicago sound,” recordings of the Tommies are a good place to start. The Tommies launched a lot of great gospel careers, including those of folks like Darius Brooks, Percy Bady, and Smokie Norful. The album also includes a duet with Albertina Walker. If you’re jealous that I’ve secured a copy of this album, well, I don’t blame you. So why not check out your local independent record store and report on your great finds in the comments section? Then it’ll be my turn to be the jealous one.

Later that week, I went to the gospel brunch at the House of Blues, Sunset Strip. This is something you can do if you live in/near the following cities. I enjoyed a lot of great Southern food—some repentance is probably in order, amen—and an excellent set by the Sons of Christ quartet. The set list included “I’m Sanctified,” “Amazing Grace,” “Already Been to the Water/Since I’ve Been Changed,” and “I Can’t Make It Without You.” At the end, they merged some themes from “Makes Me Wanna Holler” (Marvin Gaye) and “Get On Up” (James Brown). Very nice.

I haven’t confirmed this yet, but I think the mistress of ceremonies—a regal woman in gorgeous green, with a gold chapeau that rivaled any crown—might have been one of the Clara Ward Singers. Anyway, when I saw how she danced—despite wearing some killer gold heels—I realized I couldn’t kick off my stilettos any time soon. After all, if the queen of the house could dance, the least I could do was keep my shoes on. That’s just the right thing to do when folks are havin’ church.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Musical Tribute, Celebration Services for Ronald Winans

Detroit-area readers (or those of you who can get to Detroit) may want to attend a musical tribute for Ronald Winans. Eurweb and the Detroit Free Press report that the musical tribute will be held at 7 p.m. today at Perfecting Church, 7616 E. Nevada, Detroit. This is also the place to send cards and flowers for the Winans family.

The service, also open to the public, will be Friday at 11 a.m. at Detroit’s Straight Gate International Church, 1010 Grand River, Detroit.

More on Ron Winans:

He’s now singing the gospel in heaven
Artist Ronald Winans will be remembered as a sweet, gentle man who could ‘rip up a stage’
The Detroit News

NPR’s News & Notes with Ed Gordon ran a tribute to Winans. It’s nice that they did the tribute, but I couldn’t help but notice they didn’t use many clips of Ronald. That’s him at the beginning singing "I Shall Not Die But Live" from his final album, but that's Marvin on “The Question Is” and Carvin’s lead on the chorus of “Tomorrow.” There’s plenty of material available that actually includes Ronald singing (for example, the song “Uphold Me” was one of his trademarks)—so this seems rather shabbily done.

Take 6’s Alvin Chea on Winans: “Take 6 is deeply saddened by the loss of our big brother Ronald. We say our "big brother" because the Black Gospel community is truly that -- a family. We all root for each other, pray for each other, compete against one another but most importantly we love each other. Ronald was an "Ambassador of Praise," whose music, not only with his three brothers, but also with his beloved choir, transformed lives. . . . Ron will be missed; his loss is a loss for not only the Black gospel community in Detroit but the world at large, his scope and influence was as large as his smile."

From The Detroit Free Press:
“I celebrate every day I wake up. It’s a blessing every day. I’m here and whatever God has allowed to happen to me is for a purpose to bring Him glory, and for that I’m glad.”--Ronald Winans, 1956-2005

Gospel Gal Sees Take 6!

There’s someone like this at every concert: You know, the person who knows every song that’s being performed and sings along. When the performers are introducing a song, she guesses ahead of time which one it’s going to be and stage whispers it to her neighbor. She’s excited with every new song and occasionally leaves her seat to get a photo. IR-I-TAT-ING.

I never understood this concertgoer until Saturday, when I became her. This wouldn’t happen anyplace other than a Take 6 concert.

Take 6 is my favorite group of all time. No ands, ifs or buts. My very favorite. The first “real” cassette my parents bought me was Take 6’s eponymous debut. (I think the other two were Sandi Patty’s Another Time, Another Place and Amy Grant’s Heart in Motion.) Since then, I’ve been a diehard fan—even sticking with them through the Join the Band and Brothers years. Hey, once I become a fan, I’m a committed one. And, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s not Christmas until I’ve listened to their arrangement of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” (and “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion”).

I’ve had more than a few friendships that I can trace directly to a shared enjoyment of Take 6. I can sing the soprano note or lead on most of their songs, most of the way through. I am known to be personally offended if I think other acapella groups are trying too hard to sound like Take 6 (resisting--urge--to--name--names).

For all of this, I’d never seen Take 6 perform live (of course, I have the Live album, but still, no substitute). Whenever I check their website, my impression is usually that there aren’t many dates in the U.S.—and never any near me. I figured this is because the jazz scene is more lively overseas. Anyway, last Monday when I read that they’d be performing Saturday at Kansas City’s Rhythm and Ribs Festival, I knew I was going to find a way to be there. (Barbecue? Live music outdoors? American Jazz Museum? Take 6? Count me in.)

I’ve interviewed and met some cool artists, and can’t think of too many times I’ve really been starstruck. But I thought there was a real risk here. If my life had a soundtrack, most of it would be their music. So that is the line I’d prepared to share with them if there was an autograph table. I figured it was pleasant, lightly poetic, and appreciative without being too gushy. It’s also true.

Anyway, I was really, really impressed by the energy and joy they brought to their performance (although, as I said, I brought enough of my own!). When you think about it, they’ve been singing many of these songs for 17 years, yet their stage presence seemed easy and relaxed without feeling sloppy or tired.

It felt like they were singing all of my favorite songs. The set included “So Much 2 Say,” “Something Within Me,” “Smile,” “Oh, Mary, Don’t You Weep,” “My Friend,” “Fly Away,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Wade in the Water” and “Over the Hill Is Home.”

There wasn’t an autograph table, but Alvin, David, Claude and Joey came to the side of the stage afterward to sign people’s programs. I’d tucked my copy of Beautiful World in my backpack, and it now bears the signatures of “Take 4.” Anyway, maybe there will be a next time, and Mark and Cedric can sign it then. Then, maybe I'll remember my line. Or better yet, they can all sign my copy of the album they’ve got coming out this fall! I can’t wait.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll download a Take 6 ringtone for my phone. It seems like something a loyal fan should at least think about . . .

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Everything's OK

I've got a big stack-o-papers on my coffee table. (Well, actually, I have stacks-o-papers everywhere, but that's neither here nor there.) This particular stack is of stories I've been meaning to write about for

Several of those stories are about the Rev. Al Green, and his recent album, Everything's OK. I think his journey is rich and interesting--sort of a modern-day narrative about Christians, gnosticism and popular culture. Anyhoo, my friend/mentors over at found this article, which they discuss in this post. It's good stuff.

Green's discussion of jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong made me think of this delightful essay, which recently aired on NPR. When I heard the author say "Jazz is the sound of God laughing. And I believe in it, "I thought, "Me, too!" This is the kind of essay I wish I'd written and published first. Listen and enjoy.

And speaking of jazz and gospel, it would have been cool to hear this collaboration between Ramsey Lewis, Smokie Norful and Darius Brooks. But the music led me elsewhere this past weekend, and it was so very worth it. More about that in my next post.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Gospel Singer: God on Michael Jackson's Side

Gospel Singer: God's on Michael Jackson's Side

In an e-mail blitz, Kurt Carr says God "protected" the accused child molester from a conviction and a jail sentence, claiming that "God blocked it"—which is also the title of Carr's latest hit single.

Claiming that God was on Michael Jackson's "side" and "protected" him from a conviction on child molestation charges, a prominent gospel artist says, "God obviously has a work for Michael Jackson to do."

Carr says God "truly blocked" jail time for Jackson Kurt Carr, whose latest album, One Church, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard gospel chart in March, made the comments in a prepared e-mail statement released through his publicist on June 16, two days after the Jackson verdict in which a California jury found him not guilty on all 10 counts against him.

In the same e-mail statement, which went to about 120,000 Black Gospel Promo subscribers, Carr went on to pitch his recent hit song, "God Blocked It," saying that God "truly blocked the 20 years of prison that Michael faced, and the mercy of God was on his side."

Carr appeared to be capitalizing on the verdict to promote his merchandise, ending the e-mail with this sentence: "Below are the words and the link to listen and buy" the song, songbook and CD. The e-mail also included a link to JET magazine, which featured Carr in its June 20 issue.

The lyrics to "God Blocked It" include the following lines: "There were dangers awaiting me / Destruction was sure to be / But thank God for angels that were … looking out for me." And: "The devil had a plan to kill me I know / But God intercepted his plan and told the devil, No! / God blocked it! God blocked it! / He wouldn't let it be so."

Carr defended his statements in the e-mail blitz in an interview with Christian Music Today.
"I was saying how the song really applies to [Jackson]," Carr said. "I'm not judging whether he's innocent or guilty. [But] I believe that God is sovereign, and if [Jackson] is meant to go to jail, he would've gone to jail."

Carr went on to explain that he simply hopes Jackson will wisely use his time for good things: "The point that I wanted to make … is that I believe that God has work for [Jackson] to do. There is no one on this earth [who] is as big a humanitarian than he is with world peace and hope. … And basically what I'm saying is, 'OK, bro, you're free, and I pray now that you would use this gift—the gift of freedom—to move people with godly principles."

Carr insisted he wasn't trying to capitalize on the Jackson verdict.

"I don't need a gimmick to be successful," he said. "I don't need a gimmick to get my songs played. It's one of the biggest songs of the year. It's one of the biggest songs I believe I'm ever going to have. I don't need a gimmick to promote the gospel."

Carr had performed "God Blocked It" on June 14—the same day as the Jackson verdict—at the Bobby Jones International Gospel Industry Retreat in Florida, said his publicist, Veda Brown. When the verdict was announced, the buzz among several choir members was that the song applied to Jackson.

Brown, president and CEO of Black Gospel Promo, which circulated last week's e-mail, asked Carr how he would relate the verdict to the song. When she published his comments, she added the links to purchase information for Carr's products.

Neither Carr nor Brown thought Carr's statement was controversial.

Brown said she saw Carr's statement as "more of a ministry of encouragement" in reference to the news of the week. She said she has received positive responses to the e-mail, which went to a list of Black Gospel Promo subscribers that include media, distributors, retailers and consumers interested in gospel music.

On June 14, a California jury returned a not guilty verdict on 10 counts against Jackson including child molestation, conspiracy and alcohol charges. Jackson faced 20 years in prison if convicted.