He’s Alright With Me

  1. He's Alright With Me Rev. Charles Nicks Jr. & The St. James Choir 3:47

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Rev. Charles Nicks has always been one of my favorite gospel artists.  His music is always fresh and original and powerful.  This song grabbed me because it isn’t your average gospel song; it has some neat chords and progressions you don’t usually find in gospel that make it sound wonderful.  The mix of the B3, guitar and drums on the intro is great, and the choir is amazing.  Just wish the song didn’t fade out…it must have gone on longer than the 4 minutes here. I want more!

Holy Thou Art God

  1. Holy Thou Art God Richard Smallwood and Vision 8:52

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Richard Smallwood’s mini masterpiece, Holy Thou Art God.  Just one of 15 great songs on his “Healing – Live in Detroit” album.  At his peak there was no one like Richard Smallwood and his gospel music legacy lives on today.

One of the things that makes Smallwood’s music so beautiful is the incredible dynamics his singers use.  Every word has meaning and ebbs and swells and flows as needed.  Remarkable vocals on this song; nine minutes with only a few lyrics but the song keeps you riveted throughout.

And last but not least, the incredible lead solo vocals were performed by none other than the amazing Vanessa Williams. She initially gained recognition as the first African-American recipient of the Miss America title when she was crowned Miss America 1984 in September 1983. However, a few weeks prior to the end of her reign, she learned that Penthouse magazine would be publishing unauthorized nude photographs of her in an upcoming issue. Williams thus resigned as Miss America on July 22, 1984 (under pressure from the Miss America Organization), and was replaced by first runner-up Miss New Jersey Suzette Charles.

Today Vanessa Williams is one of the most respected and multi-faceted performers in entertainment today. She has conquered the musical charts, Broadway, music videos, television and motion pictures. She has sold millions of albums worldwide and she has achieved critical acclaim as an actress on stage, in film and on television.

HalleluYah Anyhow

  1. HalleluYah Anyhow Rev. Oris L. Mays with Rev. Clay Evans & The AARC Mass Choir 5:22

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Always one of my favorites, Rev. Clay Evans had a way of finding great singers to work with him.  Here is the late Rev. Oris L. Mays singing “HalleluYah Anyhow” with Rev. Clay Evan’s AARC (African American Religious Connection) Mass Choir.

He Will Stand By Your Side

  1. He Will Stand By Your Side Rev. Cleophus Robinson 4:40

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Cleophus Robinson was born March 18, 1932 in Canton, Mississippi. His mother, Lillie, was a well known gospel singer in the region. In 1948, he moved to Chicago, where he sang at churches, as well as appearing with the Roberta Martin Singers and Mahalia Jackson.

In September 1949 he made his first recordings for Miracle Records. as Bro Cleophus Robinson. He then relocated to Memphis. After graduating from high school, he began a weekly radio show, The Voice of the Soul.  By 1956, Robinson’s career had stalled. A year later, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, working at the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church as pastor for over 40 years. In 1964, he started a gospel television show that ran for 20 years. He was often referred to as “The World’s Greatest Gospel Singer”.

He toured Europe in 1969. and released his biggest hit, “Wrapped Up, Tied Up, Tangled Up.” The single enjoyed crossover success with a white audience.  In 1975, he appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and in 1980, he sang at the White House.  Rev. Robinson died in St Louis Mo in 1998.

Jesus Gave Me

  1. Jesus Gave Me Martha Bass 3:24

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(This is a multi song post…be sure to scroll down to listen to all three songs.) Martha Bass was born on March 7, 1921 in the deep south. After migrating to St. Louis as a young girl, she joined the Pleasant Green Baptist Church, where she was a promising gospel vocalist. She came under the authoritative and watchful tutelage of Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith, the head of the Soloists Bureau in gospel composer Thomas A. Dorsey’s National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, and it was there that she developed into a “house wrecker” as they are called in gospel.

With Mother Ford’s teaching and a wealth of church singing experience under her belt, she left St. Louis in the early 1950s to travel with the great Clara Ward Singers, but left after one year. Only one recording, “Wasn’t it a Pity How They Punished my Lord”, remains of her time with the Clara Ward Singers.

In the 1960s her album, “I’m So Grateful”, from which this cut was taken, Martha established her as a gospel singer of the first rank.

Martha was the mother of both gospel/R&B singers David Peaston and Fontella Bass, who’s 1966 hit “Rescue Me” was a chartbuster.  (Dig the “groovy” outfit she has on and the all white band backing her up…those were the daze!)

 

  1. Rescue Me Fontella Bass 2:54

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On the coattails of the success of Fontella’s song, Martha released her own GOSPEL version of “Rescue Me”

  1. Rescue Me Matha Bass 2:20

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Let’s Celebrate (He Is Risen)

  1. Let's Celebrate Rev. Timothy Wright And The New York Fellowship Mass Choir 5:39

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A nice Easter type song from gospel great Timothy Wright and his New York Fellowship Mass Choir. (Nice pop and slap bass line!) JVOI sang this song in 2005 when James Early was director.

Dark Day in Jerusalem/Calvary

  1. Dark Day In Jerusalem Dorothy Love Coates 1:52

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Well, I’m a day late with these two songs but what the heck.  Easter gospel isn’t a fun subject, but Dorothy Love Coates and The Gospel Harmonettes do put some energy into their song, “Dark Day in Jerusalem”.

 

  1. Calvary James Cleveland and the Voices Of Tabernacle 3:58

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James Cleveland’s “Calvary” however, is pretty dark, but a remarkable piece nonetheless.  The tempo is purposely slow and plodding, the chords are minor and when the choir comes in as backup when James starts singing the verse (1:56), it is as sad and as close to vocal moaning and wailing as you can get.  I love the rawness of the song.  No attempt to over produce it or to polish it…the voices are rough and strident, but it’s just what the song calls for.

Your Blessing Is In The Making

  1. Your Blessing Is In The Making New Jerusalem Baptist Church 4:38

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From 1988, another fabulous, big choir song from Jeffery LaValle’s New Jerusalem Baptist Choir.  This song has it all.  Starts slow and works it’s way to a wonderfully energetic ending with a great walking bass line.

Ain’t No Grave Hold My Body Down

  1. Ain't No Grave Hold My Body Down Sister Rosetta Tharpe 2:54

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Sister Rosetta Tharpe was soooo kewl.  In the 40’s and 50’s this woman was on the cutting edge of fusing gospel with blues and rock ‘n roll.  With her great guitar style (sometimes slightly out of tune…not sure if by design or not) she sang some wonderful gospel songs.

This song has an interesting background.  It was written in 1935 by a 12 year old white boy named Clyde Eli who had tuberculosis.  Story goes that after his family prayed for him one day he spontaneously began to sing this song.  His version of course was a pure southern gospel version and he didn’t record the song until 1953.

In 1946 Sister Rosetta got a hold of the song and turned it into her own version with a bluesy barrel house roll style led by her wonderful guitar lead.  This cut was recorded in 1956, live in England as part of a tour called “The American Folk Blues Festival”.

If you like this, you’ll LOVE seeing her perform “Didn’t It Rain” at the same live performance that was filmed on the platform outside an old train station near Manchester England.  Her guitar playing and facial expressions are priceless.

Change Is Gonna Come

  1. Change Is Gonna Come Luther Vandross 4:56

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It’s hard to argue that this song isn’t a gospel song…Sam Cook’s amazing “Change Is Gonna Come”.  If Hezekiah Walker’s “Better” is gospel, this song has to be as well.  I just found this version song by Luther Vandross (my idol) performed in a church when he was quite young…made me weep…partly because I miss Luther that much and partly because it’s a great performance of a great song.  Anyways…….the song has a rich story that I want to share with you.  The following is from an NPR “All Things Considered” segment aired in 2014.

 

In February 1964, Sam Cooke strolled into a recording studio, put on a pair of headphones, and laid down the tracks for one of the most important songs of the civil rights era.

Rolling Stone now calls “A Change Is Gonna Come” one of the greatest songs of all time, but in 1964 its political message was a risky maneuver. Cooke had worked hard to be accepted as a crossover artist after building a sizable following on the gospel circuit. And the first thing to know about the song, Cooke biographer Peter Guralnick says, is that it’s unlike anything the singer had ever recorded.

“His first success came with the song ‘You Send Me.’ I mean, this was his first crossover number under his own name, and it went to No. 1 on the pop charts, which was just unheard of,” Guralnick says. “As he evolved as a pop singer, he brought more and more of his gospel background into his music, as well as his social awareness, which was keen. But really, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ was a real departure for him, in the sense that it was undoubtedly the first time that he addressed social problems in a direct and explicit way.”
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It’s hard to imagine today what it meant for a black artist to achieve crossover in 1963. It did not come easily, and the last thing Sam Cooke wanted to do was to alienate his new audience. But he also came from the gospel world. He could not ignore moral outrage right in front of him.

Soon, Cooke was jarred by another civil rights anthem: Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which Guralnick says Cooke loved but wished had come from a person of color — so much so that he incorporated it into his repertoire almost immediately.

In the fall of 1963, Cooke faced a direct affront: He and his band were turned away from a Holiday Inn in Shreveport, La.

“He just went off,” Guralnick says. “And when he refused to leave, he became obstreperous to the point where his wife, Barbara, said, ‘Sam, we’d better get out of here. They’re going to kill you.’ And he says, ‘They’re not gonna kill me; I’m Sam Cooke.’ To which his wife said, ‘No, to them you’re just another …’ you know.”

Cooke was arrested and jailed, along with several of his company, for disturbing the peace. Guralnick says “A Change Is Gonna Come” was written within a month or two after that.

“It was less work than any song he’d ever written,” Guralnick says. “It almost scared him that the song — it was almost as if the song were intended for somebody else. He grabbed it out of the air and it came to him whole, despite the fact that in many ways it’s probably the most complex song that he wrote. It was both singular — in the sense that you started out, ‘I was born by the river’ — but it also told the story both of a generation and of a people.”

When he first played it for Bobby Womack, who was his protégé, he said, ‘What’s it sound like?’ And Bobby said, ‘It sounds like death.’

Cooke was known to be a bit of a control freak in the studio, with a precise idea of how he wanted every instrument to sound. For this track, however, he gave total latitude to the arranger, René Hall. Hall took the charge seriously, and wrote what was essentially a symphonic arrangement within a three-and-a-half-minute framework.

“Each verse is a different movement: The strings have their movement, the horns have their movement. The timpani carries the bridge. It was like a movie score. He wanted it to have a grandeur to it,” Guralnick says.

“A Change Is Gonna Come” was released on the album Ain’t That Good News in March of 1964. The civil rights movement picked up on it immediately, but most of Cooke’s audience did not — mostly because it wasn’t selected as one of the first singles and because Cooke only played the song before a live audience once.

“It was a complex arrangement with something like 17 strings,” Guralnick says. “I think part of him felt, ‘I’m not gonna do it if I can’t to justice to it.’ But the other part was that it had this kind of ominousness about it.

“When he first played it for Bobby Womack, who was his protégé, he said, ‘What’s it sound like?’ And Bobby said, ‘It sounds like death.’ Sam said, ‘Man, that’s kind of how it sounds like to me. That’s why I’m never going to play it in public.’ And Bobby sort of rethought it and said, ‘Well, it’s not like death, but it sounds kind of spooky.'”

It was more than spooky. Just before the song was to be released as a single in December of 1964, Sam Cooke would be shot to death at a motel in Los Angeles.

Guralnick says “A Change Is Gonna Come” is now much more than a civil rights anthem. It’s become a universal message of hope, one that does not age.

“Generation after generation has heard the promise of it. It continues to be a song of enormous impact,” he says. “We all feel in some way or another that a change is gonna come, and he found that lyric. It was the kind of hook that he always looked for: The phrase that was both familiar but was striking enough that it would have its own originality. And that makes it almost endlessly adaptable to whatever goal, whatever movement is of the moment.”