Sunday, January 22, 2006

Stellar Awards Results Announced

Here, courtesy of, are the results of yesterday's 21st Annual Stellar Awards.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I Miss You, Too . . .


I'm going underground for a couple of weeks, as deadlines are falling on me like Midwestern snow. I've got lots to talk about--and I owe y'all some updates on the Harlem Boys and Girls Choirs, Pilgrim Baptist, and the "Have A Little Talk With Jesus" story.

In the meantime, why not take a look through the archives, check out a couple of the books I'm reading, write in to recommend your current favorites (right now I'm listening to The Best of Ethel Waters), comment and start/revive an old discussion and/or subscribe, so you'll know when I post next (probably one quick post-Stellars post, then I'll see you in a couple of weeks).

The beat goes on!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

We're Gonna Miss His Lovin' . . . Lou Rawls, 1935-2005

Lou Rawls passed away Friday (not the best day for Chicago's gospel music history, see below). Rawls, a contemporary and friend of Sam Cooke, was a member of the Teenage Kings of Harmony and The Holy Wonders before replacing Cooke in the Highway QCs. The Chicago native was then a member of the Chosen Gospel Singers and the Pilgrim Travelers before deciding to sing pop music. In 2001, he recorded I'm Blessed and Oh Happy Day. (Source: Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia)

To the right is a photo of the Pilgrim Travelers from (That's Rawls on bottom left).

More on Rawls:

Lou Rawls dead at 72 (
"The singer was as well known for his charitable activities as he was for his smooth four-octave range. He founded the Lou Rawls Parade of Stars Telethon, which raised millions of dollars for the United Negro College Fund."

Voice That Embodied Chicago (Chicago Tribune)
"Rawls' roots in the South Side brought the sound of this city--rough, gritty and fervently emotional--to audiences on several continents, for the singer often rhapsodized on his Chicago origins in song and in his stage patter. Even if he hadn't, the surging blues quality of his work and the vivid gospel touches of his delivery epitomized music made in Chicago."

Singer Lou Rawls Dies of Cancer at 72 (The Chicago Defender)
"'I've gone the full spectrum, from gospel to blues to jazz to soul to pop,' Rawls once said on his Web site. 'And the public has accepted what I've done through it all.'" (Note: news outlets are reporting Rawls' age as 70 and 72.)

Rawls Leaves Rich Musical, Philanthropic Legacy (National Public Radio)

Another slew of recent stories about Rawls.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Tragic Loss for Gospel Music History

Chicago's Pilgrim Baptist Church burned down yesterday afternoon. Not only was the building an architectural landmark--it was designed by Louis Sullivan as a synagogue and built in 1890--but it is, in many ways, the birthplace of gospel music. Pilgrim Baptist Church moved into the building in 1920. Thomas Dorsey directed the choir there, and artists like Mahalia Jackson, Sallie Martin, James Cleveland and the Edwin Hawkins Singers sang here. In 1933, it was the site of the first National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses .

This is a terrible loss. I am pierced whenever I hear of churches being lost to fire. I grieve, too, whenever important historical artifacts are lost. I'd planned to visit Pilgrim, and now that opportunity is lost.

A few years ago, I happened to be in Chicago for a conference when another historic church building, St. Stephen's, burned down. As I stood just yards away, I felt inexplicably compelled to sing "Do Not Pass Me By." The final ring of the bell above the church and its fiery descent with the building's crumbling pillars are among the eeriest and most tragic things I have ever witnessed.

Here's a link to a 1941 photo of the church. You can see the Hebrew letters above the arch.

Related Stories:

Fire Sweeps Through Historic Church (Chicago Tribune, January 6, 2006)
"Firefighters this afternoon battled an extra-alarm fire that tore through a South Side church that achieved landmark status in the 1980s."

Landmark Church Destroyed By Fire (Chicago Tribune, January 7, 2006)
"Fire swept through Bronzeville's historic Pilgrim Baptist Church on Friday, sending flaming walls and timbers crashing into the grand sanctuary where gospel music was born." That, I think, is a very good news lead. Informative, compelling and brief.

History Burns With Church (Chicago Tribune, January 7, 2006)
"[Gospel] music hardly could have been performed in a more felicitous setting, the horseshoe-shaped, wraparound balcony bringing choir and congregation unusually close to each other for a sanctuary capable of seating thousands."

Another Jewel of Sullivan's Legacy Lost (Chicago Tribune, January 7, 2006)
"Every time a Sullivan building dies, Chicago is that much more cut off from the wellspring of its architectural greatness."

The Tribune's Web site has several good shots of the fire (better visual coverage than the Sun-Times', in my opinion), including a particularly gripping one: a flaming cross, in an strikingly different context.

Blaze Destroys Historic Church (Chicago Sun-Times, January 7, 2006)
This story includes a devastating fact I hadn't read in the Trib's coverage: Dorsey's sheet music is believed to have been in the building at the time of the fire. Unbelievable.

Fire Claims Historic Chicago Church (National Public Radio, January 7, 2006)

More on architect Louis Sullivan.


Echoes of Glory: Can music save the church that gave birth to gospel? (Chicago Tribune, March 29, 1998)
"This is the place, after all, that was a spiritual home for waves of black migrants who came from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and other points due south of Chicago. This is where black Chicago went to worship, to organize, to use the telephone for finding jobs."

Little-known fact: Remember the outside shot of Triple Rock Church where the Blues Brothers went to "Get wise?" That's Pilgrim.

Photo credits:

Note: This post is updated here.

Trouble for the Boys Choir of Harlem

The world-renowned Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem has faced several serious financial and management problems over the last few years. Now, they are facing eviction from the public school housing the Choir Academy of Harlem by January 31.

Unfortunately, at least from the articles I've read, it appears the Department of Education is justified in this act. Allegations of sexual abuse--and mishandling of such allegations--are pretty much the worst things that can happen to an organization dealing with children. It appears that choir director Walter Turnbull did not take appropriate action to deal with the allegations, to manage the organization's finances properly, or to hold up his end of the deal allowing the choir to stay at the Choir Academy by hiring a new executive director (becoming artistic director instead). His assertion that "They want to marginalize me as a black man" simply doesn't seem to stand up to the facts.

If you ever have the opportunity to hear these outstanding choirs, take it. I did a few years ago, and I'm so glad I did. This organization has an amazing mission and has seen some excellent results, and I hope they are able to responsibly recover from these issues. Their most recent recording is God's By Design. It's the first album to feature the Girls Choir as well.

Here's a roundup of related stories:

Troubled Boys Choir of Harlem is Facing Eviction (New York Times, December 24, 2005)
"The choir, which has at least $3.5 million in debts, laid off nearly all of its staff in recent months and no longer provides instruction to the [Choir Academy of Harlem]'s students, only 125 of whom perform with the choir."

Harlem Boys Choir Gets Eviction Notice (, December 25, 2005)
"The choir failed to fulfill a 2004 agreement to find a new chief executive to replace founder Walter Turnbull, said department attorney Michael Best in a letter Thursday. Turnbull was demoted to artistic director after an investigation concluded he did not act on reports that an employee was sexually abusing a student."

Boys Choir of Harlem Faces Eviction (, December 26, 2005)
"Despite efforts earlier this year by 50 Cent and the Game, The Boys Choir of Harlem has been asked to leave the public school where it practices by January 31, 2006. . .In March, 50 and Game came together to announce they were squashing their beef and donating $253,500 to the Choir, which rehearses for free at the Choir Academy of Harlem, as part of a 12-year collaboration with the Department of Education."

Deal Offered to Save Boys Choir from Eviction (, December 29, 2005)
"The deal would allow it to continue as an after-school activity."

Boys Choir of Harlem Vows That Eviction Will Not Be Its Finale (New York Times, January 4, 2006)
"Former Mayor David N. Dinkins raised the possibility last week that he might take a leadership role with the organization, and the Department of Education relented slightly by proposing that the choir provide after-school instruction to students who attend the Choir Academy of Harlem, the school that had been jointly run by the city and the choir. . .Representative Charles B. Rangel of Harlem has also vowed to do whatever he can to make sure the choir survives. "

Roundtable: Katrina Tourism, Boys Choir of Harlem (News & Notes with Ed Gordon, January 6, 2006)


Sex Abuse, Corruption and the Boys Choir of Harlem (The Black Commentator, January 22, 2004)
"Turnbull was more concerned with bad news getting out than he was for the well being of the victim. He didn’t report the allegations to the Department of Education, to the police, or to the student’s parents."

image credit:

Monday, January 02, 2006

'Just A Little Talk With Jesus' Makes Some Trouble

Hat tip to my friends at GetReligion, who've discovered an interesting story with a gospel music ghost. More here about how four legislators filed suit to stop what they considered sectarian prayer after Clarence Brown led the Indiana state House in singing "Just a Little Talk With Jesus."

More links later . . .

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Harmony, Hope and Healing

This week's edition of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly features the story of Harmony, Hope and Healing, a Chicago-area project that forms choirs made up of homeless women who are rebuilding their lives. Read and/or watch here.

A quote from Cherisse Ellis, a singer in one of the choirs: "When I'm singing I feel that everything is right in my spirit, in my world."

Here's a Q&A with Marge Nykaza, the founder of the program.

Recently, I've enjoyed listening to I Will Ever Sing Your Praise, a CD recorded by men living in Hope House, a home provided by Chicago's Lawndale Community Church for men who've given their lives to Christ after struggles with drug abuse or crime. For me, knowing that the music is sung by people who have struggled for every word of their testimonies makes it so very powerful.

Image Credit:

Opening Pandora's Box

Last night, I learned about Pandora, a creation of the Music Genome Project.

A description of the project from the MGP site: "[W]e set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like."

On the website, you create a personal station by entering the name of an artist or a song that you like. Then, Pandora plays songs with a similar musical "gene," letting you give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to songs as you desire. A great idea--and free, if you don't mind ads.

As a result, I'm listening to James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, Clara Ward and the like online right now. Pretty cool.

What's your favorite online source for gospel (and/or related) music? Leave the URL in a comment, and if there are enough responses, maybe I'll create a roundup.