“Dreaming” In Stereo: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a press conference courtesy the Library of Congress

For many of our readers, the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project’s name likely conjures up images of Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe or the Mighty Wonders of Aquasco, Maryland. But on this MLK Day 2017, we wanted to draw your attention to a few items from the collection with direct ties to Dr. King, especially his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.

Dr. King’s speech that day has rightfully become one of the best-known speeches in American history, its words inspiring the lives of activists, preachers, scholars and the general public for the better part of six decades. For black gospel artists recording in the years after 1963, Dr. King’s speech was fertile ground for creative expression, and they responded by creating songs that sampled portions of the speech’s recorded audio, drew inspiration from its words, or otherwise supported the Civil Rights Movement in the wake of is delivery.


I Have A Dream, recorded audio of Dr. King’s speech, 1963 on Gordy Records 45 RPM disc (Click player below for audio)

 

This disc embodies two of the ways black gospel artists responded to Dr. King’s message. The B-Side recording contains just under 4 minutes’ worth of Dr. King’s speech and ends with raucous applause after his immortal lines, “Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

 


Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King by Rev. Franklin Fondel, ca. 1969 on Cross & Crown Records 45 RPM disc (Click player below for audio)

 

The Rev. Franklin Fondel recorded these tracks with his Fondel Gospel Singers in the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968. Plaintively spoken over an accompanying organ track, Rev. Fondel spells out in rhyme both Dr. King’s life achievements and his impact on the work of the Civil Rights Movement, noting that King’s love “was the key that opened freedom’s door; no other man could have done more.”

 


I Believe Martin Luther King Made It Home by The All-Star Gospel Singers, ca. 1969 on EM-Jay Records 45 RPM disc (Click player below for audio)

 

This bluesy tribute to Dr. King features layered vocals, upright bass and electric guitar and a simple vocal refrain: “I believe Martin Luther King made it home, yes I do.”

 


In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King by Claude Jeter, 1968 on HOB Records 45 RPM disc (Click player below for audio)

 

Recorded in the immediate aftermath of Dr. King’s death, Jeter’s spoken-word tribute to King’s life and work is set over accompaniment by electric bass, piano and organ.

 


As we reflect on Dr. King’s life and legacy on this January Monday, those of us at the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project hope these songs – and the thousands of others in the project – will help bring a new perspective to his message of love, equality and freedom for all.

Friday Extra: Why Scream When You Can Shout!

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-8-59-58-amIf this first full week of October has been stressful, tiring or just plain exhausting, take heart! A new series of 2-minute segments called Shout! Black Gospel Music Moments has begun airing on Waco’s local NPR affiliate, KWBU-FM. Hosted by Robert Darden, they will feature stories from the Golden Age of Gospel (1945-1975) and will rely on music from the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project for their inspiration.

Shout! currently airs on KWBU Sundays at 8:35 AM and Mondays at 6:32 PM. The segments are being made available to other public radio stations around the country, so check your local listings.

Learn more about the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project from our homepage.

The Scene at the Crossroads: A Peek at Baylor’s Presence in the NMAAHC

bgmrp_nmaahc_slideFriends of the blog have long known – since 2013, to be exact – that material from our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project would become part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). And now, as the museum is set to open its doors on September 24, 2016, we are excited to offer an exclusive look at how those materials are displayed in the museum’s new Musical Crossroads exhibit.

This sneak peek is made possible due to two of Baylor’s own – Dean of Libraries/VP for Information Technology Pattie Orr and Prof. Robert Darden – receiving an invitation to attend a pre-opening event at the NMAAHC on September 17. Pattie and Bob were able to see firsthand how the BGMRP materials were integrated into the exhibits, and Pattie’s husband Steve helpfully shared photographs of the exhibit for this post.

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Introductory panel for the Musical Crossroads exhibit (Photo courtesy of Steve Orr)

 

Visitors to the NMAAHC will find the story of African Americans and their culture written in ways large and intimate, personal and cultural, and one of the biggest elements of that story is the way music drawn from the black tradition has had a major impact on American society since the earliest roots of our country.

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Visitors examine a large touchscreen interactive in the Neighborhood Record Store exhibit, NMAAHC (Photo courtesy of Steve Orr)

 

In a section of the exhibit called the Neighborhood Record Store, visitors are presented with a large touchscreen “table” detailing information on the various styles of music embraced by the African American experience.

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A closer view of the interactive. The disc label for The Mighty Wonders’ “Old Ship of Zion” from the BGMRP is visible in lower left. (Photo courtesy of Steve Orr)

 

Along the bottom of the interactive are a number of musical genres – blues, country, sacred, classical, etc. – that includes a gospel category. Tapping on that tab will pull up information about The Mighty Wonders of Aquasco, Maryland and their song “Old Ship of Zion,” long associated with the BGMRP (and the de facto anthem of the project). Visitors can then hear a sample clip of the audio of “Old Ship,” as well as view a photo of the group.

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Dean of Libraries/VP for Information Technology Pattie Orr (left) and Prof. Robert Darden (right) view the BGMRP materials in the interactive touchscreen. (Photo courtesy of Steve Orr)

 

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Closeup of “Old Ship of Zion” information from touchscreen interactive. (Photo courtesy of Steve Orr)

 

Also featured in the exhibit are images of album jackets provided by the project. Visitors can browse through “bins” of sample records in various genres, harkening back to the days when record store customers were spend hours browsing through bins filled with the latest releases.

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Bob Darden and Pattie Orr stand with a “bin” containing copies of album covers from the BGMRP. (Photo courtesy of Steve Orr)

 

After more than four years of discussions, file sharing, digitization, permissions granting and plenty of logistical conversations, it is truly rewarding to see materials from the BGMRP making their big debut at the NMAAHC. As the project enters its second decade dedicated to collecting, cataloging, preserving and providing access to materials from America’s black gospel music heritage, we are truly grateful to be a part of not only Baylor Nation but, in some small way, the history of the nation itself.


 

For More Information

Read our previous blog post about the partnership with the NMAAHC

Visit the BGMRP homepage

View the BGMRP collection via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections

Visit the NMAAHC website

Email us at digitalcollectionsinfo[at]baylor.edu

It Was There Before The Tree, Obviously: The Story of Mrs. Hubbard’s Hidden Flag Pole at the ABL

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Pictured: The Struggle Between Nature and Tall, Metal Objects

An existential question for you on this Flag Day: Is a flag pole still a flag pole if it’s no longer flying a flag? (Short answer: yes, it’s just not living up to its potential.)

Here’s another, related, question: What’s up with the 50-foot flag pole currently hidden by a giant oak tree on the west side of the Armstrong Browning Library? (Short answer: it started with a donation, and some trees grow really tall.)

It All Started (For Me) With A Post-presentation Walk

One sunny spring day, after attending a presentation at the beautiful Armstrong Browning Library, I walked out the building’s side door and ran smack dab into a flag pole I’d never seen before, which was weird, because it was 50 feet tall and topped with an eagle; kinda hard to miss, right? Normally, you’d be right, but allow me to set the stage with a little photographic evidence of its camouflaged-ness.

pole_and_treeAnd, waaaay up top: the eagle.

eagle_atop_poleCurious, I drew nearer to the mystery pole and found at its base a plaque with some intriguing – if not completely illuminating – information on it. To wit:

flag_pole_plaqueThis of course lead to a whole series of questions: Who was Robert M. Hubbard? How was he connected to Baylor? Why would a flag pole dedicated to the “Founder of the Texas Highway System” be found outside the Armstrong Browning Library? Where the heck is New Boston, Texas? And so on.

To find the answers, I went digging into the archives at The Texas Collection, the Armstrong Browning Library and – of course – Google. The story has ties to former Texas governor (and Baylor president) Pat Neff; a man obsessed with the lives of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning; and a prominent location on the (then) frontier of the campus.

Who Was Robert M. Hubbard?

Robert M. Hubbard – Rob, to his family and friends – was born in Cooper and grew up in Paris, Texas. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1894 and went on to gain a law degree at the University of Texas, graduating in the same class as (drum roll, please) Pat Morris Neff. Later, he married Berta Lee Hart. He went on to serve two terms in the Texas state legislature from 1930-1931 and served as state highway commissioner under governors William P. Hobby and Neff. Hubbard would die on November 6, 1934.

Hubbard oversaw the transformation of the state’s roadways from a series of barely passable, poorly planned backroads and county highways to one of the most advanced, innovative state highway systems in the country, earning him the nickname – you guessed it – the Founder of the Texas Highway System.

Mrs. Hubbard’s Gift

While R.M. Hubbard was busy serving the state both in Congress and in the highway commissioner’s chair, the Baylor University campus had a monumental task of its own: creating a collection and, eventually, a library related to the lives of Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The idee fixe of English faculty member Dr. A.J. Armstrong, the development of an on-campus resource focused on Browningiana took hold in Armstrong’s mind after his participation in an auction of Browning materials held by Sotheby’s in 1913. Over the next several decades, Armstrong worked tirelessly to acquire Browning materials. In December 1951, his dream was realized with the dedication of the Armstrong Browning Library, a gala affair that drew a long list of attendees, including one Berta Hubbard.

Mrs. Hubbard and an acquaintance, a Mrs. Watley of Texarkana, attended the festivities and were greatly moved by what they saw. After some conversations with Baylor administrators, facilitated by D.K. “Dock” Martin and including Earl C. Hankamer and Dr. Armstrong, Mrs. Hubbard settled on making a gift to Baylor in her husband’s honor. In a letter to Martin dated January 23, 1952, Mrs. Hubbard wrote,

Three thousand dollars is a large gift for me at this time, but I feel that I would like to make a gift – and if the flag staff is the wise choice – I would like that. … Of course it would be in memory of Rob.”

Letter from Mrs. R.M. Hubbard to D.K. “Dock” Martin, January 23, 1952. From the W.R. White Papers at The Texas Collection. Emphases in original. $3,000 in 1953 translates to roughly $27,000 dollars in 2016.

Mrs. Hubbard’s check led to the design and manufacture of a 50-foot flag pole, topped with an eagle and featuring a memorial plaque, to be situated on the southwest side of the building. At the time, that represented the treeless boundary of the campus. In this photo from the dedication ceremony, you can see just how starkly it stood out against the 2-year-old building’s facade.

Flagpole Dedication 5For reference, here’s what that location looks like now, thanks to Google maps.

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A (Lone) Star-studded Affair: Dedication Day

Planning for the flag pole’s dedication ceremony started small, with Dock Martin proposing a gathering of some 50 of Rob Hubbard’s closest friends to be held on Founders Day (February 1, 1953). However, at the encouragement of Baylor president W.R. White, the decision was made to “make a real Baylor occasion of it,” especially when former Texas governor William P. Hobby – under whom Hubbard had served as highway commissioner, you’ll recall – agreed to attend. The date was eventually changed to May 29, and Gov. Hobby served as the guest of honor.

Photos from that day show it to be a major ceremony indeed, including music, faculty in full cap-and-gown regalia, a contingent of U.S. military members and a sizable crowd present under a clear blue sky.

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Gov. W.P. Hobby (left) with Mrs. R.M. Hubbard. From the archives of the Armstrong Browning Library.

 

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Raising the Texas flag. Note the bugle player near the flag pole’s base; it is assumed he is playing “Reveille.” The presence of a piano also leads us to believe there was some form of special music presented for the occasion. From the photo archives of the Armstrong Browning Library.

 

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The major players, from left: D.K. “Dock” Martin, Mrs. R.M. Hubbard, Gov. W.P. Hobby and Dr. W.R. White (Baylor University president)

The flag pole’s grand launch was a success, and its presence on the southern frontier of the ever-expanding campus was a daily reminder of the university’s inextricable link to the state it calls home. But over time, an innocuous bystander, present at the dedication, would grow to obscure and hide its legacy to all but the heartiest of campus visitors (or, as it turns out, curators out wandering the grounds after a presentation). I give you: The Obscurer!

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Dunt-dun-DUHHHHH!

Yes, this hopeful little sapling will grow over the next 60+ years to become a mighty oak, with massive limbs and a propensity to consume. And at the time, it seemed so insubstantial, so full of promise, a future source of respite for an outdoor-minded Victorian scholar, not the dominant shade provider it would actually become.

Though it no longer bears a flag aloft in the shimmering south campus skies, the flag pole dedicated in honor of R.M. Hubbard – the Founder of the Texas State System – is a unique, endearing lagniappe to the legacy of the stunning architectural gem sitting just a stone’s throw away.  And without the vision and passion of one member of the university’s faculty, who’s to say what might have occupied this now-vibrant corner of campus? Certainly nothing as interesting as an oak tree that eats flag poles, that much is certain.

Long May She Wave?

We have it on good authority – current director and long-time faculty member Rita Patteson, at that – that at one point there was an ABL flag that flew from the pole some years ago, and while I wasn’t able to track down an image of it, I took the liberty of creating an artist’s rendition featuring Dr. Armstrong’s face and what I imagine to have been his personal motto, which may or may not have been tattooed on his left bicep (unconfirmed).

ABL_speculative_flagOh, and One More Thing

This is where the heck New Boston is.

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We are thankful to Jennifer Borderud and Melvin Schuetz at the ABL for their help on this post, and to Benna Vaughan and the staff at The Texas Collection for their help with the W.R. White correspondence.

 

And Then There Were 9,601: A Big Update on the Spencer Sheet Music Collection

It’s a collection that’s been at Baylor University since the middle of last century, with items spanning back to the 1700s. There are more than 28,000 items in that collection including a first edition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Jingle Bells. And as of this week, it’s reached a milestone: more than 9,600 digitized items from the Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music are available online for free.

We’re closing in on 10,000 items, which will mean 30% of the total physical collection digitized. We thought we’d celebrate this milestone by putting some of the most interesting recent additions in this blog post. Feel free to click into the collection and explore each piece further, including looking at the lyrics for each.

 

There’s a lot more to this latest batch (422, to be exact) and we encourage you to take a look at them all. We’ll continue to update you as we add new content to this collection, and if the previous 9,000+ items are any indication, we’re in for quite a ride before this collection is completely online!


Learn more about the Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music at the collection’s homepage.