Be Ye Steadfast

  1. Be Ye Steadfast The Florida Mass Choir 6:44


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At last night’s rehearsal, after Donnell had finished exhorting the choir to sing out with confidence, he sort of muttered under his breath, “Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding…”. Today’s post is inspired by that phrase.  This song is one of my favorites.

The Florida Mass Choir has been a recording institution since 1977, performing gospel standards and originals with the shattering power of a multitude of voices. Under the direction of Rev. Arthur T. Jones, Florida Mass has been called one of the most significant gospel music aggregation of all times. The choir is composed of  men and women, from high school students to great grand parents, from all over the Sunshine State. The voices reach back into the vast heart of America’s black culture and brings forth one of the finest examples of traditional African-American gospel music heard today.

The Florida Mass Choir has three albums certified as number one, three as top five, and two as top twelve. Their songs can be heard in worship services throughout America and they have become a staple of inspiration and hope to countless thousands throughout the world. Letters and cards from Europe and West Africa all attest to the effect their message has had upon their lives.

It’s Gonna Rain

  1. It's Gonna Rain Rev. Milton Brunson & The Thompson Community Choir 4:49


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The late Reverend Milton Brunson organized a mass gospel choir in 1948 at Chicago’s McKinley High School. This choir was called the ‘Thompson Community Singers’ or ‘The Tommies’ after the late Rev. Eugene Thompson of St. Stephen’s Church. They would go on to release numerous and very successful gospel albums between 1963 and 2000. The choir grew from an ensemble of 48 to more than 200 voices and became the United States’ longest running mass gospel choir.

I Found Jesus

  1. I Found Jesus Luvonia Whittley & Corinthian Temple COGIC Radio Choir 3:55


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Luvonia Whittley and The Corinthian Temple COGIC Radio Choir. 

Born May 15, 1943, Mother Whittley holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from the Chicago Teachers College, a Master’s Degree in Language Arts and Administration from Chicago State University and the Doctorate Degree in Theological Studies from Midwest College and Theological Seminary.

Retiring in 2013, Mother Whittley is acclaimed for serving 25 years as host for “Gospel at Its Best” on two of Chicago’s premiere radio stations, WYCA and WRGB, where she rightfully earned the title “Chicagoland’s Radio Minister of Music.”

Mother Whittley is known throughout the Church of God in Christ as a powerful and anointed evangelist, author, motivator and organizer. She studied at the Chicago Conservatory of Music and for nearly 25 years she served as Jurisdictional Minister of Music for the First Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of Illinois (under the late Bishop Louis Henry Ford), recognized for building a music department to include close to 1,500 singers and musicians.

At present, Mother Whittley serves as Director of Christian Education for the Corinthian Temple Church Of God In Christ, where she served for nearly 40 years as Minister of Music and the visionary leader of the legendary gospel recording aggregation, the Corinthian Temple Radio Choir.

On the national level, Mother Whittley served for 25 years with the COGIC Department of Fine Arts as a Music Activities Coordinator. In 1994, she was appointed to succeed the late Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, and served for 6½ years as the President of the International Music Department.

Total Praise

  1. Total Praise Richard Smallwood and Vision 4:59


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Richard Smallwood‘s “Total Praise”…it has become one of the best know contemporary gospel songs and for good reason. It’s amazing.

I first heard it by accident listening to a gospel music radio show late one Sunday night. Sitting there in the dark this song came on and by the end I was a weeping mess. (see comments below…I’m not alone!)

Gospel writer Bob Marovich wrote “Like James Cleveland, Smallwood is an absolute genius at composing gospel canon. It is as if he is scoring the soundtrack for Heaven itself. On ‘Total Praise,’ Smallwood combines his classical sensitivity with gospel exuberance, creating an exquisite aural feast. His setting of the Amen at the conclusion of ‘Total Praise’ may well be the most beautiful moment in gospel music today. It’s a challenge to listen to this recording and not well up in tears of joy.”

Here is Smallwood describing what made him write Total Praise.

“Its sort of ironic how it came to me. It came to me in a very difficult time in my life. My mother was very ill, my god brother was terminally ill and I was playing caregiver, running from the hospital to my home taking care of everybody. It really felt like I just couldn’t do it. A lot of people don’t understand that care giving is just as difficult as the person who is ill because if you don’t take care of yourself you can end up in the hospital from stress and stuff.”

“I felt like, I know God has not forsaken me but sometimes you get to a point in your life where you know He’s there but you cant feel Him. I knew He was there, I knew he had my back but I couldn’t feel anything and I said God I cant. I feel helpless with my loved ones, I can’t make them get any better, and I don’t know if I’m doing enough.”

“I was sitting at the piano and Total Praise came just like that. I didn’t have to work on any melodies or inversions, it just all came as if it were already written.” (Carol King said the exact same thing when she spoke about writing “You’ve Got a Friend”…RLS)

“I knew once I wrote it that God had given me something really special. I had no idea all that it would do but I knew it was very special. He really gave it to me in that particular instance because he was saying to me, “Regardless of what you see around you or regardless of what you feel I’m still owed your praise because I’m going to get you through it, you may not see it or you may not feel it but I got your back so give me praise now, in your valley time; I call it valley praise. When you really think about it, God already mapped it out; He’s got it even if you don’t see it. That’s what he was saying to me “give me your praise in what ever season you find yourself in.” He gave it to me and then He took it elsewhere and did what He did with it.”

Here are another couple of snippets about the song:

“This uplifting anthem is stunning in its emotional power, ending with a reflective setting of the Lutkin Seven-fold Amen. Powerful from beginning to end, this anthem of praise is just what you need to fill the sanctuary with the Spirit!”

“The conclusion of this popular gospel hymn evokes the tenderness of Brahms, the boldness of Wagner, and has brought the most macho of men to briny tears.”

Lastly, here is a video of the master…the composer of the song, Richard Smallwood (with his vocal group Vision), performing the song in it’s entirety, including a magnificent orchestral intro. 

How the Isley Brothers Created ‘Shout’

  1. Shout (Pts. 1 & 2) The Isley Brothers 4:25


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NEVER under estimate the influence that the CHURCH and GOSPEL MUSIC has had on secular music of all kinds.  Here is a wonderful story of how strong gospel roots led to The Isley Brothers’ song  “Shout”, one of the earliest and best-known party songs.  RLS

From The Wall Street Journal
Friday, November 6, 2015
By Marc Myers

The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” is one of the earliest and best-known party songs. Immortalized by the frat-house dance scene in the 1978 comedy film “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “Shout” was originally conceived by Ronald Isley during a 1959 concert in Philadelphia as a way to extend the audience’s excitement. Though “Shout” only reached No. 47 on Billboard’s pop chart in 1959, it became the Isley Brothers’ first million-selling record thanks to its enduring popularity and covers by many other artists. The single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Mr. Isley and his brother Ernie will perform at New York’s Apollo Theater on Nov. 7 as part of a live televised broadcast by the OWN network. Their appearance follows the release in August of a 23-CD boxed set by Sony of all the Isley Brothers’ albums from 1959 to 1983. Ronald Isley, 74, recently talked about “Shout’s” evolution.

Edited from an interview:
Ronald Isley: From the time I was a baby, my mother taught me to sing. She was a pianist and choir director at the First Baptist Church in downtown Cincinnati. Our church was an emotional, physical place. On Sundays, the congregation worked itself up, with people screaming “Halleluiah!” and collapsing on the floor. My mother put me and my five brothers in the front row of a pew while she played piano and organ and sang. I wasn’t frightened by everything going on around me. I was more captivated by the minister and how he was able to hold onto so many people for the entire service. At home in Lincoln Heights, just outside Cincinnati, my mother often played records and rehearsed me. In 1944, when I was 3, she entered me in a singing contest at our church. I stood on a chair and sang “I Trust in God.” I won, and the prize was a $25 war bond. My brothers and I formed a gospel group in the early 1950s, but in ’57, after my father, O’Kelly Sr., died of a heart attack, my brothers, O’Kelly Jr. and Rudolph, and I began singing doo-wop to earn money. A lot of young gospel groups were doing that then. It was a natural move. Vocal harmony was at the heart of both gospel and doo-wop. In 1958, my brothers and I moved to New York, where we met [talent scout] Richard Barrett, who brought us to George Goldner, the owner of Teenage, Gone and other independent record labels. We recorded a handful of songs for him, including “I Wanna Know” and “My Love” and that kind of stuff. Then we began performing at East Coast theaters. By early 1959, larger labels wanted to sign us. We liked producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore best, and they signed us to RCA. But our first record, “I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door,” didn’t do much. We needed a hit.

  1. I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door The Isley Brothers 0:31


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In July 1959, we were booked into the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia as part of a soul revue hosted by local disc jockey Georgie Woods. There were about 15 other acts on the bill like the Flamingos and the Dells. I loved Jackie Wilson then—everyone did. Jackie had a powerful church voice, but it was more than that. He had this easy, natural way of being on stage—taking off his jacket in one move, dancing smoothly, rolling his eyes and using his entire body to illustrate song lyrics. All of this knocked out audiences. “Lonely Teardrops” was a big hit for Jackie in 1958, so I sang it with my brothers during our performances. It became such a strong number for us that the promoters put us on last to close the shows. Which was great, since audiences left the theater thinking of us on their way to record stores, not the other groups. Jackie’s “Lonely Teardrops” had this part at the end where he’d sing, “Say you will,” and his backup singers would respond in kind. Then Jackie would ad-lib, “Say it right now, baby, yeah, come on, come on.” That was straight out of gospel. During one of our performances at the Uptown Theater, I was singing “Lonely Teardrops” when I saw that everyone in the audience was standing up and really getting into it. The place was packed and the audience was yelling their approval, like at church.

  1. Lonely Teardrops Jackie Wilson 2:42


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The energy level was so strong that I didn’t want to end the song yet. I began to ad-lib, the way Jackie did: “You know…you make me wanna shout” and the band picked right up on it with that galloping beat. The people standing went crazy, and I began to ad-lib more lines, like “Kick my heels up” and “Throw my hands up.” I’d wait a second at the end of each line so my brothers and the audience had a chance to answer me with “Shout!” That song just took over. But “Shout” didn’t end there. We had 10 more days to go on our revue, and audiences were coming to the theater and waiting for the song at the end. As our run continued, I began developing the song. Ray Charles’ 1954 recording, “I Got a Woman,” was a big inspiration. He had opened his song with a big drawn-out “We-eee-ll,” and at the end he’d go into these gospel chord changes and a call-and-response thing with the band. He’d sing, “And don’t you know she’s all right, yeah.” We went along with that on “Shout,” with me singing, “Don’t forget to say you will” and my brothers answering me with, “Say you will” and “Say it.” Then I sang, “Come on, now” over and over. We really got everyone going. When the revue’s run ended, my brothers and I returned to New York and told Hugo and Luigi about what had happened in Philadelphia. They already knew, having read about us in the papers. They said, “Why don’t you guys record ‘Shout’—without ‘Lonely Teardrops?’ Invite all your friends to the studio so we have a live audience there, like at the theater.” On the night of July 29, we recorded “Shout” at RCA’s Studio B in New York. I sang it as close to the way we had been performing it as possible, with all of our friends in the booth and along the studio walls. Hugo and Luigi chose all the musicians except organist Herman Stephens, who I knew from church in Cincinnati. Herman understood “Shout” from the start. When the single came out in August 1959, it was spread over two sides—Parts 1 and 2. As we performed “Shout” at concerts to support the record, I came up with a dance, treating the audience like a congregation. When I sang, “Shout—a little bit softer, now,” people would dance down low, rising slowly only when I sang “a little bit louder now.” Church groups weren’t happy with “Shout.” We turned a song with a gospel feel into an R&B hit, and the groups began writing disc jockeys asking them to stop playing our record. They felt “Shout” should have been a church record. In 1977, the song wound up in the movie “Animal House.” I only found out about it after the movie came out in ’78. In the ’60s, the Isley Brothers had worked so many colleges it was pathetic. You can’t name a college we didn’t play. My guess is that whoever had the idea to put “Shout” into the movie had first heard us perform it on the their campus. We didn’t mind that the movie’s fictional band, Otis Day & the Knights, sang it and not us. They were cast to sing the song, but after the movie came out, they began touring, singing “Shout” and our other hits. By then, we were too big to play smaller clubs, so they took all the jobs we turned down. They made a living off of that song. Back in late ’59, after “Shout” came out, my brothers and I began working with Jackie Wilson. We were fans of his when he was with Billy Ward and His Dominoes, and he became one of our best friends. He was crazy about us, though he was a little jealous, since we’d always tear up the show at the end. In fact, we had followed him to Englewood, N.J., in late 1959. He was living there, and we wanted to live there, too. First we were in an apartment and then we bought a house where we could live along with our mom. She was crazy about “Shout.” Today, when we perform, we always end with “Shout.” I tell everyone in the audience to stand up and they know what’s coming. Once we jump into it, most of the people try to recreate the “Animal House” thing all over again.

I Want To Be Ready

  1. I Want To Be Ready Rev. James Cleveland & The Southern California Community Choir 2:20


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In 1999, this was one of the very first songs Geoffrey Dana Hick taught his travel choir. The choir’s amazing tour of Umbria in Italy was the impetus for the founding of “Joyful Voices of Inspiration”. Although I didn’t know it at the time, many of the songs the early choir learned were James Cleveland songs because a James Cleveland album was one of the few gospel albums Geoff had in his early days of playing gospel music.

Geoff learned to play gospel at age 18 at 12th Baptist in Roxbury while attending the New England Conservatory as a classical pianist.  Prior to that he had lived in various places abroad since his father was in the foreign service/diplomat. 

Story goes that when he arrived in the U.S from Germany to attend The Conservatory, he was invited to dinner in at the home of Ralph Abernathy (pastor of West Hunter Street Baptist Church and noted civil rights leader working closely with Dr. Martin Luther King) and his wife in Atlanta Georgia.  After dinner Mrs. Abernathy asked Geoff if he would play the piano for them and he played several classical pieces that they enjoyed. Impressed with his talent, Mrs. Abernathy asked Geoff to play them some gospel music. He told them he didn’t KNOW any gospel music, let alone be able to play it.  Astonished, amazed, and a bit shocked, Mrs. Abernathy told Geoff to go to Union United Methodist Church, “the biggest black in Boston”, as soon as he got settled in Boston. 

One Sunday Geoff decided to follow Mrs. Abernathy’s advice and got in the cab and asked the cabby to take him to “the biggest black church in Boston” since he couldn’t remember the name Mrs. Abernathy had given him.  The cabby took him to 12th Baptist in Roxbury and that was that. Over the ensuing years Geoff learned to play gospel at the hands of the resident masters at 12th Baptist and eventually ended up playing at Sunday services!  Today, Dr. Geoffrey Dana Hicks is not only a talented composer and pianist, he also serves as Minister of Music at Tremont Temple in downtown Boston.

I’ll post a recording of Geoff playing gospel in the near future.

Welcome Note

There is such a rich treasury of gospel music, from the “traditional” songs written in the 1930s – 1950’s, to the mass choir sound pioneered by James Cleveland in the late-60’s, and on through the soul, funk, hip-hop and rap gospel that defines “contemporary” gospel. We want to share some of this music with our choir, and this blog is made for just that.  On a regular basis we will post songs to this blog for your listening pleasure.  Feel free to reply and comment as you wish, that is one reason we are using a blog format.

Essential Mahalia Jackson

  1. Mahalia - Five Selections Mahalia Jackson 18:54


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Mahalia Jackson (October 26, 1911 – January 27, 1972). Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel”. She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.

“I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free”, Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.”   [Source: ]

This is a “mix “of five songs from the two CD set “Essential Mahalia”; all recordings are live performances.

0:00 How I Got Over
6:03 Walk All Over God’s Heaven
8:38 My God is Real
12:14 I Can Put My Trust in Jesus
15:30 Elisha Rock

He’s a Keepa

  1. He's A Keepa Rodney Bryant & The Christian Community Mass Choir 5:13


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In my family we’ve always referred to good things as being “a keepa”…boyfriends, girlfriends, snapshots, recipes…whatever. So this song’s title just grabbed my attention and I love it. Yes it’s contemporary, but the vocals are good, the bassline is fun, the lyrics are simple and to the point, the vamp (3:13) is easy to get into, and the notion of God as a “keepa” is sort of kewl.

Lord I’m Trusting

  1. Lord I'm Trusting Chester D.T. Baldwin 6:13


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Another “old school” traditional gospel song in the same vein as Regina Belle’s “God Is Good”. Typical “call and response” song…easy for the congregation to follow along with.

This song was recorded in 2003 on an album titled “Sing it on a Sunday Morning – Just Having Chu’ch”