Edited by Tony Jasper
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My shout to you all is “Happy Easter!”
Easter in a world
tyrants and pathetic political leaders -
and the innocent
IN THIS ISSUE:
Seen and Remembered
Return of Jokes
Word for Easter
Tony Jasper takes a peep into the world known as “Black Gospel” and along the word journey suggests basic albums that should adorn any collection of this wonderful religious and music genre.
Twickenham, March 11, 2017, England and Scotland meet on the rugby field. The crowd from time to time sing ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ with a few changes. Tuning into radio at the time, you might have thought you were at a Gospel event as this superb spiritual is sung with fervour by 80.000 people.
How many though knew something of its derivation? How many sang from faith? Then again simply ride musically with the likes of Mahalia Jackson, Sally Martin, The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Winans, The Staple Singers, The Caravans, Golden Gate Quartet. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Davis Sisters, Isaiah Owens, Washington Phillips, The Swan Silvertones, The Ward Sisters, and the Dixie Hummingbirds, to name a few of 700 or more recorded artists, and you are no questions asked into the world of black gospel music, and with it faith riches and inspiration galore.
I think the first black Gospel I heard was from Clara Ward and the Ward Sisters, and I shouted for joy, or maybe I jumped! This was joyous singing of the Gospel, and far from the somewhat stifled correctness I knew in some chapel places. And then I heard over the radio The choir of St Paul’s Church, Los Angeles, and suddenly another Christian world was opening before me, the gospel choir, far, far away from polite anthems I heard in church. This choir moved. I was stirred.
For many church people, or the general music follower of record charts, black gospel arrived at the end of the 1960s in the joyous hit record ‘Oh Happy Day’ from the Edwin Hawkins Singers. This is the group and record that opens the text in the book The Golden Age of Gospel by Horace Clarence. Clarence comments:”. Hawkins had synthesized not only what earlier great gospel musicians had developed, but the entire singing tradition of Africa Americans since they adopted Christianity, without which there would not be gospel music.” The principal sacred music of many African American churches became part of American popular music
Yet along the way even in the midst of the wonderful story of black gospel there have been those ‘in church ’who have laid down a narrow path to those who sing and play.
Some of the artists named have broadened their appeal to non-religious based musical forms, often labelled ‘secular’ strains, and so they have moved into ‘house’ and funk and blues, and soul and rock. Among these, Mahalia, Sister Rosetta, even The Blind Boys of Alabama with the latter venturing into songs recorded by the one-time rock band Blind Faith. None have been more successful than Aretha Franklin. These and others have sometimes received shouts of dismay, even hostility for singing the blues or pop. Legendary gospel singer Sally Martin is quoted saying: “ You can’t be on both sides of the fence at one time. You’re here tonight and tomorrow you’re something else.” Even today, many say in simple fashion: “You cannot sing both sacred and secular music, or if you are ‘church’ then you are church full stop. Levine Hudson, found, accepting a secular worldly label is for some - Babylon, even if her father was pastor. Here was the young woman of faith, a voice that had music journalists like me, and her signed company Virgin, speaking in awe that we were hearing a British Aretha Franklin, but other voices said she should stick to ‘church’. I was the first to interview her when she signed her solo record contract with Richard Branson’s, Virgin records. 0nce a member of the gospel Harmonisers, she came up with an album entitled “Intervention”. She would give her version of the classic ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ that found its fame via Marvin Gaye.
Then again, at the time, early 1990s, there was Spirit of Watts from East London who had me shouting, some wonderful songs, deep faith excursions but somehow things didn’t work out.
Today of course in the more contemporary charismatic and ‘worship’ churches black and white Christian artists simply wander musically into whatever form takes the fancy in terms of telling the Faith and some rock, some groove soul language, some make a noise. Zero in on TV channel 65 and you have a surfeit of bands and singers who mainly, if better, could pick up a secular contract. They look the same, adopt the same mannerisms, inflections as any popular music outfit.. There are still outposts where the guitar, especially the bass guitar is frowned upon, and don’t mention – drums
The roots of black gospel music are based in faith and hope for a better world. “Gospel’ is seen an elision of two old English words meaning God and story. According to the compilers of the US published book Uncloudy Days it is thought the word first appeared in print in 1874 with the publication of Philip Bass’s book Gospel Songs, and this translates as “songs that tell God’s story.” This black gospel music idiom grew out of the “North American plantations and cotton fields where negro slaves toiled from dawn to dusk.” In date this period is often chronicled as from 1620 to the late 1800s. Later times with its horrors of racism, segregation, and humiliation of the black person there was spawned another wave of memorable songs. As Bill Carpenter puts it in his wondrous 515 page encyclopedia: “A belief in God and a heavenly reward were perhaps the only hope that kept many slaves going. In a sense, without hope, all hope dies.” Many a black gospel song is expressive of the ‘ups and downs, the good times and the bad.’ Life and faith come lived in a song, and the sentiments of a personal songwriter and singer find an ache of life’s pain or a ‘hallelujah’ from a listener. Many a composition simply tells it like it is. Sometimes an artist sings through his or her problems. In more religious territory, lyrics speak of the Trinity, blessings, thanks and lamentations, and often, as one great track of Mahalia is titled, the cry from the singer, and listener, is “I’m On my Way’ in life with Jesus, and heading toward heaven. Alongside and intertwining there is the negro spiritual that often tells a biblical story.
There were various styles of both leading and congregational participation in singing. Among these there is “Lining’ and called ‘raising’ among the slaves, but with difference. It’s interesting to note that the texts of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley found their way strongly into the black community. A song leader would sing or recite each line of the hymn and the congregation would sing it. As for “Raising” Clarence writes how in a gathering instead of singing the lines of a hymn as they were written or reciting them in an oratorical manner, the leader would chant the lines, often chanting two lines at a time to a tune unrelated to the tune the congregation would sing.” It wasn’t over with that for the people would decorate them with “bends, slurs, slides, and held notes.” It was the case of matching or ”surpassing the leader in ornamentation, although such songs were sung in harmony composed of parallel intervals.” And there are other forms of expression recorded, such as “shouting” or “body rhythms” or the “ring shout” of holy dancing.
Various compilations exist that capture the rawness of congregational singing from early times, such as the album Sorrow Come Pass Me Around - a Survey of Rural Black Religious Music (Dust to Digital) the record entitled Gloryland (Harmonia Mundi) with folk songs, spirituals, gospel hymns of hope and glory, and what are described as carrying the story of love and loss, hope and redemption. Classic African American Gospel is a Smithsonian Folkways release that captures sacred sounds spanning half a century.
Four hours of what is described as raw African-American Gospel is on This May Be My Last Time Singing (Tomkins Square)In terms of quartets, look for Golden Gate Quartet – When The Saints Go Marching In (Golden); still available on Ace Records, The Bells are Tolling from the Fairfield Four – post second world –war quartet music at its very best. As it comes with the people - Local Customs – Downtown Revival that takes you to Ecorse, seven miles from Detriot. (N records)
Compilations abound, and the best ones give a great overall picture of this faith and worship expression - look for The Gospel Sound of Spirit Feel (Spirit Feel Records), on the British label Charly. Great Day Coming – 50 Gospel Greats. Gospel – The Essential Album (Union Square) traces black gospel from its humble beginning to the present. Get On Board Little Children (Ace) takes in what is often termed the “Golden Age” – the 1940s and 1950s and so features outfits such as the Swanee River Quartet, Prof.James Earle Hines & His Goodwill Singers and not least the legendary Rev C.C. Chapman (The Travellin’’ Shoes Man) And The Faith Temple Choir. This is issued here on Ace records. Gospels & Spirituals is a 2CD set on the Dejavu Retro Gold Collection. British label Delta Leisure Group have gathered together 40 tracks for their Purely Gospel set.
PART TWO BLACK GOSPEL AND BEYOND
Part 2 Tony Jasper visits some contemporary people and recordings and influence of black gospel beyond that of the US.
So there is Pat Boone, Daniel 0’Donnel, Frankie Laine, Kathryn Jenkins, Lesley Garrett, Cliff Richard, Charlotte Church, Aled Jones, Tom Jones, Elvis, Eric Clapton : white artists who, with many others, have raided a black gospel and spiritual catalogue. Interestingly, and doubtless confusingly for some, in ‘church’ there are black artists singing popular music, and who grew up in the church and who left, but took with them the format, and who enlighten their music with its style, have hits, sell in the millions, and adorn Award ceremonies where they thank God many times for their success. Some of course do record their own album of religious songs, Candi Staton being one, Yolanda Adams and Whitney Houston two others. The great B.B. King has an album of Spirituals (again released here on Ace).
Others slide in some gospel on their general albums, as for instance Fontella Bass on her 2001 album ‘Travellin’ where she includes ‘In The Garden’ and ‘Walk with Me. Some are forced to switch to pop in the face of the earlier mentioned ‘church’ hostility, so on to this stage welcome the delightful Wyonna Carr while others just see the music as speaking to them without being card carrying Christian, or it just takes time, as with the great Etta James. She had in 1986 sung ‘He’s Got the Whole Wide World’ on her ‘live’ Live at Maria’s Supper Club (Fantasy) but her desire to sing Gospel came in 1989, The Gospel Soul of Etta James. Another whose story has similarity in a desire to record gospel is the great Irma Thomas. Her album Walk A round Heaven included a track by the legedary gospel singer Bessie Griffin, ‘Careful Hands.’ She would write ‘Time Is On My Side’ recorded by the Rolling Stones and LaBelle’s, Lady Marmalade. Other artists have belonged to a gospel group and which often for good reasons, as opposed to friction on policy and song choice, has ceased and so they have taken a solo track, such as powerful Mavis Staples from the Staples, after ‘pop” died. Her albums are simply superb and often deeply moving, and readily available in HMV and the likes. A classic is Dorothy Love Coates and the Original Gospel Harmonettes in a Speciality Gospel series.
Black gospel people note how much the ‘soul’ world owes, and arguably most soul lovers have no idea of the gospel influences upon their favoured music even down to song writing and vocal style of Motown. For the religious background to many a soul artist then look for a British release from Fantastic Voyage, Get Your Soul Right – The Gospel Quartets & The Roots of Soul Music. The sleeve writer Clive Richardson comments: “Be it the hand-clapping revivalists or the torturous summering soul burners – here you have the true roots of soul.” Wade in the Water is the title of a 57track release under ‘History of Soul’. From street preachers to quartets – roots and branches of the origins of soul music (inspired by the landmark book on black gospel, Tony Heilbut’s ”The Gospel Sound” ) there’s the set named after his treasure of a book (Shoot), and distributed here in the UK by Cherry Records. Look for Overcome! (Trikont) – a series with, as they term it, “Preaching in Rhythm And Funk”. Stax is a revered label and they issue he Gospel Truth –
The Gospel Sound and Funk at Stax (BGP). And since I began more-or-less with the Edwin Hawkins Singers try The Very Best Of (BMG) which yes, contains the hit and 17 other tracks.
While there may have been areas in ‘church’ where women were sadly shunted aside the catalogue of Black Gospel contains plenty of female voices, as it were ‘out front’ . Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens is issued by Daptone Records in Brooklyn New York, and has some powerful organ playing from the Musical Director, Cliff Driver, Outstanding and often astounding come the Clark Sisters. They fused their own vocal style with RB genre that had Stevie Wonder accumulating hits and influencing so many others.
I revel in hearing the Johnny Thompson Singers who drive and drive vocally and are underpinned by demanding relentless piano. The two young girls of ‘Mary Mary’ have taken testimony high in the soul and R&B charts with general record shop available readily available albums such as Thankful and a self-titled set. Oh anything by the Winans and the Staples. Unforgettable though is The self-titled he dirty Dozen Brass Band ((Ropeadope) which takes you into those processions in New 0rleans for the deceased and still in this country to be seen and heard in Stoke Newington. Gospel Live! takes you some more to jazz praise from New Orleans (Premeaux & Associes). The classic is Lauryn Hill’s, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Columbia) her only solo studio set.
In the popular ‘Gospel’ line there is Sounds of Blackness with albums such as Africa to America – The Journey of the Drum, Everything Is Gonna Be Alright., and The Evolution of Gospel and issued by the British, A&M records. Homegrown songs and others from traditional Gospel fields can be found on Ladysmith Black Mambazo – In Harmony (Universal), Oh Freedom is an album of African-American spirituals with Craig Hella Johnson and singers, the African Children’s Choir and It Takes A Whole `Village (Alliance) from Kenya the Kenyan Boys Choir in Sprit of Africa (Decca) , for choirs, here in Britain, the London Community Gospel Choir, from Norway, the Oslo Gospel Choir, the US has plenty but so good anything by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir – simply stunning. Their album Declare Your Name (Integrity) has my all-time favourite, a pulsating and deeply moving track ‘Made To Live For You. ~Truly soul!!
A ‘cliché’ but true, time moves on and in this instance a younger generation groove and rap Gospel. In a new and often explosive way and manner and into this comes someone like Kanye West and who with someone such a Ron Kenoly has found widespread white following. Some artists have found themselves favoured by the contemporary “praise world” and across ‘colour’ – so Kirk Franklin or Yolada Adams, but the real gem for me is discovering Fred Hammond. ‘Praise’ has been seen in some quarters as “the white man’s diluted for of gospel. Hammond takes everything into his consciousness and his worship songs
know no barrier. You can find his albums in HMV, try God, Love & Romance (Verity).
In the predominantly younger house and church worlds, for ‘floor’ people, Gospel has moved on with the movements in general floor music. Some of this is caught on the `New Sound Of Gospel with R&B, funk, rap, that brings together on this compilation among others Mary, Mary, Kierra ‘Kiki’ Sheard, Raymond and Co. Motor City Mass Choir, Seven, and Donnie McLurkin on a two CD et of 38 cuts. Blues and
Gospel is an area I’ve left untouched, other than BB King, but for starters hear Isaac Hayes introduce and then take in 14 jazz-blues instrumentation and vocal foursome.
Any church floor should shake to he Source featuring Candi Staton on the album History of Ministry of Sound Volume 1, that will blow the windows out, albums The Gospel According to Budgie, Volumes 1 and 2, where traditional Gospel gets a 21st century make-over, and where tracks are conveniently segued. Worship songs get some zap on Jumping in the House of God ( Moved), the compilation Soul Stirrings (4th Way) has sweet , sweet music, Voices of Conquest is also termed ‘A Gospel Funk Hymnal’(VOC) which is not for the faint of heart, loud, while Google into Gospel Funk and there’s plenty of music on YouTube. Youth Revival takes you ‘live’ into Hillsong worship a la floor music that throbs, hits, pumps and powers away and the place is alive!
And for a surprising last word breath - within Gospel there is room for indeed one Bob Dylan – just try The Los Angeles Gospel Choir, The Gospel According to Bob Dylan (0de) and hear some of his classics given a ‘gospel’ treatment. So there is Black America Sings Bob Dylan (Ace) in soul and gospel fashion!
For my all-time ‘’in the Spirit’ album – Newport 1958 – Mahalia Jackson (CBS/Philips). This is the great singer at the famous Jazz Festival with just sumptuous testimony in music.
As for purchasing - HMV and Amazon have a considerable catalogue, but for more rare releases there are specialist shops in cities such as London and Birmingham, just google.
Most of this feature has been about the roots and broad history of black gospel on record. There is so much
more that can be said, and I am conscious of much not mentioned, but that needs the space of a book.
(Both of these first appeared in The Methodist Recorder, London. March 2017).
Seen and Remembered
We bless battleships with missiles. But not the love between two people.
In the past forty years, a whole supermarket system has been built on the seductive illusions of this Permanent Global Summer Time.
Built into society is the idea of women as less: less lustful, less competitive, less aggressive.
Dombek, “but a book about narcissism is like the padded cell in the asylum.
Where there was once soul and body, now there’s also a phone.
My transvestitism today is more of an aesthetic exercise than an erotic one.
The Chilcot report is longer than all the Harry Potter books put together. No one’s going to read it.
We seem to be living in an age where we’ve become scared of our sophistication. We crave things that feel authentic.
Roger (no surname given)
IKEA is a kind of faith, a belief system.
The most enduring images of the 2016 UK festival season thus far have been provided by music fans rolling around in mud.
Marxism gave my parents faith to last a lifetime. The left today looks as it it’s also developing into a church.
We go to the gym to train a muscle – we should train the brain too.
Andy Puddicombe. Meditation expert.
You can’t design something sitting at a computer screen . The computer is a tool. I still design in my sketch book, I only go to my computer when I know what I am going to do.’
Ian “Swifty’ Swift.
Anyone who tops the charts can now deliver a lecture on poverty to politicians who earn less than their stylists.
Sunglasses, like commenting on a forum, make us feel important, even when we’re not’
Everything I was drinking to achieve I’ve found in my sober life’ closeness with people, creative inspiration, erotic adventure, and true confidence, the kind that doesn’t come from a bottle. I pride myself on knowing who I am now. That’s real power.
- A reporter was interviewing the town’s oldest woman. ‘”And what do you find is the nest thing about being 104?,” – “That’s easy, no peer pressure.”
- How does Moses make tea? Hebrews it.
- I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.
- Did Noah fish? He school teacher asked. “James, do you think Noah did a lot of fishing when he was on the ark?” “No,” replied James, “How could he? He only had two worms.”
- A man goes to his doctor and says his wife is disturbed at the poor sex life that they have. The doctor tells him not worry. He is advised to run ten miles a day for two weeks. Then he should call the doctor. So he did, and he called the doctor. The doctor enquires how things have worked out. The man is distraught, and says ”Hopeless.” The doctor is perplexed. He asks why the negative response. The man replies: “I’m 280 miles away.”
- A Jewish story translated:
Boy runs home to his mum. He is excited.
He tells his mother he has a part in the school play. He says he is playing a dad. His mother says: ”Next time get a speaking part.”
WORD FOR EASTER
A sermon from Tony Jasper, and preached some years back on EASTER SUNDAY, Quex Road Methodist Church, London.
I apologise if I have taken anything from wherever without permission to use here. I have not kept notes. I do normally credit.
IT IS THE LAW OF BIBLICAL NARRATIVE that those who grab power render themselves impotent. In the last few days we have travelled through the story of one man JESUS, his powerlessness faced with the destructive forces of this world, which is a strength beyond their conception.
The paradox is that Jesus takes possession of this drama by an act of dispossession. His power is in his powerlessness, since in handing himself over into the hands of the disciples, he transforms the story of one of victimization – as it Psalm 14:4 ‘they eat up my people as they eat bread’-into a shared feast of freedom. Betrayal into gift.
As the Bishop of Durham pens in yesterday’s Times – the world wants to hush up the real meaning of Easter. Death is the final weapon of the tyrant, or for that matter, the anarchist, and resurrection indicate that this weapon doesn’t have the last word.
In a moment we take bread and wine. This simple celebration throws into relief the real presence of love in creation. We carry the bread and wine to the table but we carry the bread and wine to the table of the world.
That is so astonishing. That is so amazing. Such transformation promised. Such transformation realised.
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is connected with the bringing of new life
With the healing of mind and bodies and souls
With the restoration of broken relationships
With the elimination of social injustice and inequality
With the working at peace
We are not gospel consumers. We are gospel creators. But what struggles are we going to join?
These things are sure –
We have to grow
We cannot do that alone, and that is why the bread was broken by Him. Not among the few, but among the many; and that is why his cup is passed around among the many.
We need the community We need the group. We are confronted by the Christ at the table – we are confronted
By the Christ at the table of the world.
Says the Bishop:
Easter is about a new creation that has already begun. God is remaking His world, challenging all other powers that think it is their job.
Thomas Merton puts it powerfully –
MAKE READY FOR CHRIST WHOSE SMILE LIGHT LIGHTNING, SETS FREE THE SONG OF EVERLATING GLORY THAT NOW SLEEPS, IN YOUR PAPER FLESH, LIKE DYNAMITE.
The theologian Schillebeeckx puts it this way
in terms of the Church
what the Church has to offer us explicitly Is already implicitly present in human life as a whole; it is the mystery of salvation.
The Church reveals, proclaims, and celebrates in thankfulness the deep dimension of that which is being fulfilled in the world…the Church is in fact the world where the world has come fully to itself., where the world confesses and acknowledges the deepest mystery of its own life, the mystery of salvation fulfilled through Christ.’
Or as another has said – in terms of Jesus, that He came to reveal to us in a superabundance how loving is the fundamental power in the universe…he came to tell us that we need not fear, that we could take the risk of vulnerability required by loving reconciliation.
Now such statements are not easy to assimilate quickly –– but let’s take all this and out it into a resurrection through a crucifixion mixer!
Hear this poem first
HIS BODY DOUBLED
UNDER THE PACK
THAT SPRAWLS UNTIDILY
ON HIS OLD BACK,
THE COLD WET DEADBEAT
PLODS UP THE TRACK.
THE COOK PEERS OUT;
“O CURE THE OLD LAG
WITH HIS CLUMSY SWAY
MADE OF A DIRTY
OLD TURNIP BAG.”
“BRING HIM COOK
FROM THE GRAY LEVEL STREET
PUT SILK ON HIS BODY
SLIPPERS ON HIS FEET
AND BREAD AND MEAT.
LET THE FRUIT BE PLUCKED
AND THE CAKE BE ICED,
THE BED BE SNUG
AND THE WINE BE SPICED
IN THE OLD COVE’S NIGHTCAP;
FOR THIS IS CHRIST.
We have to shoulder responsibilities
We have to develop
We have to increase
We have to march on
The old skin is no longer any good
There are horrors , there are betrayals, insensitivity, cruelty, viciousness, hatred, but if we speak, if we say, we carry the bread and wine to the table of the Lord, and so as people of the Risen Christ, then such things cannot be total sum of human experience.
Years back there was an advertisement for Levi Jeans – it became for a while a potent symbol of freedom from constraint – it showed people running through walls, along felled trees, jumping over chasms. But then it was about image.
As people of the Risen Christ we are called to witness to a deeper freedom, which is to give our lives away, as did Christ. ‘This is my body given for you’ we are free to be sent. We are free to go to other people, to share their lives, and name the God who is already there.
Yet we are often in fear to confess faith, fearful to say what we think, fearful to confess our doubts to each other, our worries, fearful to be eccentric, or disloyal, fearful of others, worried by their judgements.
Yet we are the people of the Resurrection.
There are horrors, there are betrayal, insensitivity, cruelty, viciousness, hatred,
We are the people of the Risen Christ and these things cannot be.
Yet how do you feel if I say the happiest saints are the most sorrowful – like St Dominic who laughed by day with his brethren, but wept at night with God.
So we are sent out to recognise people’s joy and sorrow, to be touched and changed by them.
Celebrate the Risen Christ!
And so aware that you the Christian has still to work, with mind, as well as body, to suffer, hope and die; but now all our bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. Great is the bounty. Great is the Kingdom.
Back to the Bishop: WHEN THE CHURCH BEGINS TO WORK WITH EASTER ENERGY ON THE TWIN TASKS OF JUSTICE AND BEAUTY, WE MAY FIND THAT IT CAN FACE DOWN THE STREETS OF THE SCEPTICS, AND SPEAK ONCE MORE OF JESUS IN A WAY THAT WILL BE HEARD.
Celebrate the Risen Christ.
You can hear ‘live’ many sermons preached by tony jasper...for ease just go to Chapel Street Methodist Church, Penzance, Cornwall. Find ‘sermons’ and then find tony jasper. Full details can be found for listening on computer or I-Pod.
Martin Halsall is a fine journalist, writer and poet. With his permission this is a poem for Easter. It comes from his collectio :ollSanctuary (Canterbury).
RESURRECTION: EVENING PRAYER
Supposing Christ came back, again, and foUnd
These temple stones, also given resurrection,
these sandstone flags well-trod, all light
Filtered through tall cascades of coloured glass,
And sat, still, waiting for silence to grow up
To something more. Perhaps some visitors’ careful
Footsteps, treading cautiously through stillness,
Following the promise of something waiting to happen?
Someone might point a notice saying Service Times,
Perhaps hours away. Someone might prepare books
Nearer those advertised times, and light high candles,
Point out the whiteness of flowers arranged for Easter,
Supposing he sat for a while, remembering,
Watching light weave on stone, graceful as obedience?