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 . . .