“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

Perfect Delight: The Inaugural Voices & Vinyl Concert!

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After months of planning and hours of rehearsal by our friends in the Heavenly Voices Gospel Choir, our Voices & Vinyl concert was held on Thursday, December 3rd in the Moody Memorial Library Allbritton foyer.

It was, to be perfectly frank, a complete success from our point of view.

A sizable crowd of students, faculty, staff and passers-through filled the lobby as the performance began. As the choir members’ voices began their harmonious blending, more and more curious onlookers stopped to take in the sights and sounds of the day’s events.

The program for V&V 2015 featured four remixed versions of songs from the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project:

> Joy To The World, inspired by the 1988 cast performance of Black Nativity
>
Swing Low Sweet Chariot, inspired by the 1958 recording by The Ward Sisters
> The Little Drummer Boy, inspired by the 1987 recording by Cleophus Robinson
> Blessed Assurance, inspired by the 1960 recording by The Caravans

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Here is a short overview of the day’s proceedings in video form:


Voices & Vinyl Videos
These videos contain footage, raw audio and photographs recorded during Voices & Vinyl, as well as clips of the original songs from the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project that inspired the Heavenly Voices’ performance.


Voices and Vinyl 2015 In Pictures
Click photos to enlarge

The success of this inaugural outing of Voices & Vinyl will hopefully lead to further collaborations between the Digital Projects Group and the Heavenly Voices Gospel Choir, as well as other student groups interested in using the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project as a springboard for inspiration and new scholarship.

We want to thank the members of Heavenly Voices, the folks at ITS/Libraries Marketing and everyone who had a hand in spreading the word about V&V. And thanks to all of you, our blog readers, for your support in this exciting new event. We hope to be writing about VandV for years to come right here at the DPG blog!

Unveiling the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project’s “Wall of Honor”

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.47.44 AMAny project as ambitious as our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project cannot happen in a vacuum, nor can it succeed without the willing hands and open hearts of a broad range of supporters, and after almost a decade’s worth of work toward preserving America’s black gospel heritage, we’ve made significant progress thanks to the support of literally dozens of people.

They are collectors, benefactors, private citizens with small collections to loan, major foundations with capital to invest in the equipment, talent and time it takes to advance the BGMRP from semester to semester. And we thought it’s high time they got some recognition on the project’s website. So, we’re happy to unveil the BGMRP Wall of Honor, a virtual listing of the backers big and small who’ve helped make it a success.

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Click on the image to view the entire Wall of Honor!

Each supporter’s name is placed on a label from a 45 rpm disk from the collection and the whole wall is organized alphabetically. The label associated with each supporter is randomly assigned, hence the quilt-like appearance to the entire Wall.

While it’s only a small token of our appreciation to these fine folks, we hope it helps drive home the importance of community support for projects like the BGMRP. And if you’d like to see your name on the wall – after you’ve loaned/donated materials or supported the project financially – we’ve got plenty of opportunities for you to show your support.

We hope to see the Wall continue to grow as the project continues to flourish, and with each news story, interview, public presentation or one-on-one conversation we have about the BGMRP, we’re seeing its importance and influence spread across the country. And the nice thing about a “virtual” donor wall vs. a physical wall? There’s literally no end to space we can use to feature anyone who shows their support!

The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project is an attempt to catalog, digitize, preserve and promote America’s black gospel music heritage, with a focus on the “Golden Age” of 1945-1975. Learn more about the project, including how you can support our goals, by visiting the project website.