Hello again everyone.
Well it’s been quite a week at All Souls. Most notable, of course, was the funeral service of John Stott. Parts of the service were recorded and they will be well worth a listen. The welcome, songs, tributes, readings, and sermon all combined as a fitting tribute to a man whose life was about honouring Jesus. Details of the recording will be on the All Souls website when they become available.
But the day before the funeral were our regular services. However, the morning services weren’t regular at all. We were pleased to host the London Community Gospel Choir, in an abbreviated incarnation. They were amazing! – just ask anyone who was there. It was a morning not to be missed.
During the services, in my intro into the next song after the choir had sung, I mentioned a couple of the biggest names in gospel music and, while members of the choir nodded knowingly, I realise that those names were entirely lost on many members of All Souls. This ought to be remedied because those whom I mentioned are certainly worth knowing about. To that end, I give you a few songs by two of the legends of gospel music.
Let’s start with possibly the greatest gospel singer of all time, Mahalia Jackson.
This song, in my opinion, is a great introduction to her music. We hear her power and conviction in every note of this one. It’s also a great song because of what it says. Sadly, many gospel singers did not share the sentiments expressed in this song and the touring companies of these performers were often not known for particularly holy lifestyles.
The second singer I mentioned is Sam Cooke. You may know his name from such early 6os light pop hits as “You Send Me”, “Cupid” or “Twistin’ the Night Away”. But before those mainstream successes he was a star of gospel music as the young featured soloist for The Soul Stirrers.
The first 10 seconds alone are worth the price of admission here. The control and subtlety of his voice is incredible! – and especially since these were his opening notes at a live show. Gives me chills every time! This is the first of three Soul Stirrers songs that were performed at the legendary 1955 Shrine Concert which brought together some of the greatest gospel artists onto the same stage. Sam and the Soul Stirrers played 3 songs over about 20 minutes and brought down the house (while, the recordings prove, raising the temperatures of many young women) with an 8-and-a-half minute version of “Nearer to Thee”. It’s worth hearing for yourself (iTunes will be glad to help out).
Well, consider that a very brief introduction to these two giants of 20th century music. But let me leave you with one more song; this time a studio recording of the Soul Stirrers.
Please put aside the rather interesting theological perspective for a moment. The African-American church (as seen through some of their songs) does have a fascinating practice of understanding biblical events as happening in a sort of “trans-linear” timeframe so that they see themselves as full participants in the event. But that is perhaps a subject for a later blog (if not a PhD. dissertation).
What I want you to focus on is Cooke’s musicality when he comes in with “Amazing Grace…”. His phrasing, tone, and melodic/harmonic improvisation over a fairly standard gospel quartet tune is so inventive. These phrases and melodies go on to serve him well as he brings them into “secular” music within a few years, thus essentially inventing soul music. Just take a listen to “You Send Me” to hear some of the same trademark lines… albeit smoothed out a little – mainstream radio in the late 50s/early 60s wasn’t prepared for a raw gospel belter.
Well there you have it. Mahalia and Sam. Two of the legends of Gospel music. There is lots of music of theirs around to dig into so have at it.
Until next time…