The Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections Blog

Black Gospel Music Restoration ProjectArchive

Nov 20

open_letter_darius_rucker_header

Dear Mr. Rucker,

Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the Digital Projects Group, five dedicated professionals in the world of digital collections in academia, specifically Baylor University in Waco, Texas. You probably don’t know who we are, but we know you’re familiar with Baylor: you and your buddies in Hootie and the Blowfish played a huge concert here in 2005, as evidenced by this photo and article from our campus newspaper, the Baylor Lariat:

Vintage you (and your buddies) from the December 1, 2005 "Lariat"

Vintage you (and your buddies) from the December 1, 2005 “Lariat”

But we’re not writing today to relive the glory days of Waco’s early 2000s music scene. Our goal is to pique your interest in our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, about which we’ve written extensively on this blog, and you may have seen featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and in various publications across the country. It’s even going to be a part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, set to open on the National Mall in 2016.

The reason we see this as something that might be of interest actually harkens back to a bonus track featured on the Blowfishes’ seminal 1994 album Cracked Rear View. Tucked away at the end is a beautiful a cappella rendition of the traditional Negro spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. We know YOU know what that sounded like, but for our readers who may not have experienced it yet, here’s a version from YouTube.

It’s impossible to say just how much emotion, history and tradition are embodied in that 54-second clip. According to Wikipedia, this particular song dates back to as late as the 1870s, with an early documented version showing up in 1899. It has particular resonance for African Americans given its ties to the destructive era of slavery in our country, but it also holds universal appeal to anyone who’s felt alone, lost and without a destination beyond the hoped-for “home” beyond this earthly life.

Our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project contains a dozen different versions of this song performed by artists ranging from Willa Dorsey to the Singing Stars of Louisburg, North Carolina (a short five-hour drive up the road from your native Charleston, South Carolina, as the map below indicates).

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 11.46.58 AM

In case you were interested in a road trip!

Of all the versions of that song to be found in the BGMRP, we are partial to the one recorded by the Malcom Dobbs Singers ca. 1963 for their album Great Spirituals. It is spare – only vocals, a timpano and an ethereal organ – but it contains a world of emotion, and it builds to a satisfying payoff of grandness tinged with sorrow. Take a listen below.


(Copyright RCA Camden, all rights reserved. See the full item in our Digital Collection for more information.)

Whichever version you prefer, it’s obvious to us that you felt a connection to this song, and we wanted to take a moment to point out its prominence in a collection we are very proud of. We hope you’re able to discover a new version you hadn’t heard before, and we hope our collection helps further your love of American gospel music.

We’re certainly not asking for anything on your part – you can consider this a publicly available version of an FYI – but if you were to, say, offer to come back to Waco and grace us with a concert of your favorite gospel-inspired songs, we certainly wouldn’t be opposed to that. (But seriously, if you want to talk, drop us an email: digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu.)

Best wishes on a successful tour of the UK!

Your friends in the Baylor University Digital Projects Group


This post is part of a series of Open Letters to musicians, authors and others that we hope will connect our collections to prominent people in America. If you have someone to suggest, or if you’re the subject of this post and want to drop us a line, send us an email (digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu).

For more information on Darius Rucker’s music, including available discs, upcoming shows and info on his latest release of Christmas music called Home for the Holidays, visit his website.

Dec 16

 

Our thoughts on today’s news, as captured by this album from The Trumpets of Jericho.

Some big news regarding the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project was made official this weekend via the social media of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC): the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP), managed and maintained by our own Digital Projects Group, will become part of the permanent collection when the museum opens its doors in 2015!

According to the story from the NMAAHC’s Tumblr, we will contribute highlights from the collection for incorporation into an exhibition called the Musical Crossroads. From the Tumblr:

This permanent exhibition will tell the story of African American music from the arrival of the first Africans to the present day.

Both [NMAAHC curator Dr. Dwandalyn] Reece and [Baylor journalism professor Robert] Darden see these recordings as important additions to the new museum for the stories they can help tell. While planning for the exhibition is ongoing, the Baylor recordings may be used to explore the importance of gospel music to the civil rights movement.

Featuring select recordings from Baylor’s growing digital collection in the Smithsonian will give visitors an opportunity to learn these stories and to listen to many gospel recordings that may otherwise have been lost to history.

Dr. Reece also pointed out the ways is in which materials from the BGMRP can help us better understand the impact of black gospel music at a regional level:

The recordings may also be used to highlight the regional diversity of early gospel music. “Not all gospel recordings made during the pinnacle of gospel’s popularity were made on major labels,” Reece explained. “Many were done in connection with local churches and there are differences in style based on where these types of recordings were made.”

The collaboration announcement post, via the NMAAHC’s Tumblr page.

The project was sparked in 2005 by an op-ed piece written by Prof. Darden for the February 15 edition. In it, he bemoaned the loss of America’s recorded collections of black gospel music. That appeal generated a lead gift from collector Charles M. Royce that funded equipment and the first audiovisual specialist, Tony Tadey. From there, Prof. Darden’s tireless promotion combined with the technological and information handling mastery of the DPG to create a collection of more than 8,000 digitized tracks, 1,200 of which are available online with more added regularly. (For more on the history of the project, please visit the project website.)

We are obviously quite excited to be partnering with an institution with such an august reputation and world-wide name recognition as the Smithsonian Institution, and we look forward to working closely with Dr. Reece and her team at the NMAAHC in the coming months.

The Digital Projects Group is a part of the Electronic Library, a special collection within the Baylor University Libraries. DPG staff involved with the BGMRP are Assistant Director for Digital Projects Group, Darryl Stuhr; Audiovisual Specialist, Stephen Bolech; Digital Collections Curator, Eric Ames; and Digitization Coordinator, Allyson Riley.

For More Information

Read the NMAAHC’s Tumblr post

Read our previous blog post about the partnership

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

Nov 15

All good things require patience, as the Evangelistic Soul Seekers well knew, given the title of this ca. 1965 track.

If you’ve been reading the local newspapers of late – the Waco Tribune-Herald and our on-campus daily, the Baylor Lariat – you’ve seen Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP) get some generous front-page coverage. This publicity has centered around last week’s Pruit Symposium, a two-day affair held at Truett Seminary celebrating the project and the impact of black gospel music on American culture.

One of the most tantalizing possibilities being discussed is the possibility of sharing content from the BGMRP with the still-in-development National Museum of African American Culture and Heritage (NMAACH), the newest project of the Smithsonian Institution. The NMAACH is currently under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (check out their live construction cam here!) and is scheduled to open in 2015.

In recent months, several members of the project – most notably Prof. Robert Darden of the Baylor University Journalism Dept. and Tim Logan, Associate Vice President for the Electronic Library – have been in talks with staff at the NMAACH about potential ways to integrate content from the BGMRP into an exhibit on black gospel music at the museum. These discussions have focused on ways to provide unique content from the project for access by patrons visiting the museum’s exhibits. While these discussions are in the very early stages, we have received positive feedback on working together to explore ways in which this partnership might benefit NMAACH visitors and further the goals of the BGMRP.

One thing that will not change, regardless the outcome of discussions with the Smithsonian, is the way in which the important work of gathering, digitizing and presenting online the materials from the BGMRP is being done. The project will stay at Baylor University, and it will continue to be carried out by members of the Digital Projects Group – a group housed in the Electronic Library, a special collection of the Baylor University Libraries. Control of the project will continue to reside with Baylor faculty and library staff.

Obviously, we are excited about the interest being generated in this important project, and we look forward to finding new ways – and partnerships – to promote the BGMRP and its impact on scholarship, research and enjoyment by people around the world. We look forward to sharing more details on the project’s growth and development as they are solidified, and we encourage you to direct any questions, ideas or offers to assist the project to digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu.

Baylor University Libraries staff members involved with the project are:

–       Darryl Stuhr: Assistant Director for Digital Projects Group

–       Stephen Bolech: Audiovisual Digitization Specialist

–       Kara Scott: Metadata Librarian

–       Eric Ames: Curator of Digital Collections

–       Allyson Riley: Digitization Coordinator

–       DPG graduate assistants and undergraduate student workers

For more information on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, please visit http://www.baylor.edu/lib/gospel. The publicly accessible collection may be found at http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/fa-gospel30.

Oct 18

Records of America’s gospel heritage

Back in 2010, a crew of professional documentary filmmakers visited the Digitization Projects Group. They were on a mission: to interview and film the team of professionals working on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP), a project brought to life through the vision of Baylor University journalism professor Robert Darden. David Licata and his crew spent a day shooting on-camera interviews with Professor Darden and hours of b-roll footage featuring our team working to clean, digitize, catalog and scan materials from the collection.

The footage Licata and his crew captured is being included in his documentary film, A Life’s Work. Described on his website as a “documentary about people engaged with projects they may not complete in their lifetime,” the film chronicles the stories of men and women who know their passionate pursuits will not be realized before they pass on to the next great adventure, and how that knowledge shapes their approach.

In addition to a segment on the BGMRP, Licata’s film will examine an architect and his “urban laboratory” in the Arizona desert; the director of the Center for SETI Research; and a father-son team of tree farmers who are trying to clone old-growth trees for long-term reforestation projects.

Prof. Darden’s attempts to save America’s black gospel musical tradition – especially materials from its “Golden Age” from 1945-1975 – have been documented on NPR’s Fresh Air, in the pages of major newspapers across the country, and through Darden’s own relentless drive to present about the project in front of audiences across the country. He knows the odds are stacked against him in terms of finding and saving the majority of the existing gospel recordings. In fact, by Darden’s own estimate, more than 75% of these recordings have already been lost.

But through hard-nosed tenacity and the generosity of some major donors, we at the DPG have managed to digitize and preserve thousands of black gospel songs thanks to a combination of technology and staff expertise. From the efforts of our original audio engineer, Tony Tadey, to the ongoing work being done by audio-visual digitization specialist Stephen Bolech – along with contributions by every member of the DPG team – our group has seen the importance of Darden’s work and are fully invested in helping him realize his dream.

One Step Closer to the Big Screen

This week we received an email from Licata telling us he’d added a new sequence of footage from his time at Baylor to the blog for A Life’s Work, and we wanted to pass it along to you, our blog readers. There are actually two clips at the link, and both feature interviews with Darden and a look at Tadey’s work in the audio booth. Licata’s blog post is full of excellent detail on the thought process behind how he creates the sequences for his documentary.

View the clip at YouTube

One update for our readers regarding Darden’s concerns about keeping someone in the position of audio engineer is worth noting here. Since the interview with Darden was conducted in 2010, the Electronic Library has added a full time staff member – Stephen Bolech – to work with audio-visual materials, including materials from the BGMRP. In addition, we are contracting with Tony to continue his work digitizing materials from a major collector in the Chicago area (where Tony now lives and works). To answer Darden’s quote from the clip, “I need more faith,” we can respond with a hearty “praise the Lord and pass the reins to Stephen” – the BGMRP will go on, and Darden’s fears of the project languishing can be laid aside.

Stephen Bolech at work in the audio booth

We are eagerly awaiting the release of A Life’s Work and will pass along details to you as they become available. In the meantime, we encourage you to visit Licata’s website, read his blog, and support the people in your life whom you know to be on a quixotic quest to do something that seems impossible. Without their efforts, we may truly lose irreplaceable pieces of our shared human experience, and that’s the gospel truth.

To Learn More about A Life’s Work

View the trailer for A Life’s Work

Visit the website for A Life’s Work

Follow Licata’s blog

* For you non-Greek myth buffs, Sisyphus was a king who was forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill for all eternity. The worst part? Every time he got it to the top, it rolled back down again and the cycle continued anew. Now, his name is an adjective meaning “endless and unavailing, as labor or a task.”

Jun 04

One of our bigger projects here at the Digitization Projects Group is the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP). Established in 2008, it seeks to preserve America’s proud tradition of black gospel music through digitization, access, and new research.

From the earliest days of the project, we established a blog for interested parties to track our progress. Now, as part of our consolidated outreach efforts around the DPG’s various digital projects, we’re excited to announce the addition of the BGMRP blog’s content into this blog. Future updates on the BGMRP will be made via the Digital Collections blog, while users who frequented the old site will be encouraged to keep up with the project here as well.

Below is the introductory post from the previous BGMRP blog, as well as information on some neat national publicity the project has experienced in the past few years. We’ll have more information on the BGMRP’s future as we move forward, and we encourage you to get involved with this unique, important project in any way you can. America’s gospel tradition is definitely something to sing about – and preserve for generations to come.

Purpose of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP)

The ultimate goal of the project is to preserve and store a digital copy of the audio long term, and to provide standards-based discovery tools through an online interface into a full catalog of materials, along with samples of all tracks from the audio archive.

The BGMRP identifies, acquires, preserves, records and catalogues mainly 78s, 45s, LPs, and the various tape formats issued in the U.S and abroad during the 1945-1970 time period. However, the project will also digitally preserve any ephemera that may be of use to scholars, including PR photos, press packets, interviews, photographs and sheet music.
As work on the BGMRP progresses, we will use this blog to present information such as:

  • Updates on the status of the collection, including updated stats, information on newly received collections/loaned materials, etc.;
  • Notes from Tony Tadey and Stephen Bolech, our audio engineers, on the technical side of digitizing these often fragile materials;
  • Photos of items received, BGMRP staff at work, and much more;
  • Information for collectors, including how to loan/donate to the BGRMP;
  • A system for adding your comments; and
  • A forum where gospel enthusiasts can exchange information, give us tips on sources for materials, reminisce about their favorite gospel memories, and more.

Check back often for more posts, and please email us at librarywebmaster@baylor.edu with questions, comments, or things you think might make this blog more useful.

Thank you for your interest in the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. You can help us ensure the project’s success by becoming involved and spreading the word, so please feel free to pass along our URLs to one and all. You never know – someone you tell about the BGMRP may be the contact we need to preserve an irreplaceable piece of American cultural history!

Publicity for the BGMRP
Some recent stories involving the BGMRP have been mentioned in the press. Check out more information at these links!

Civil Rights on the Flipside: Baylor Press Release.

“A Life’s Work” – a documentary about “people engaged with projects they may not complete in their lifetime”: Robert Darden and the BGMRP

To See More Posts on the BGMRP
Click on “Black Gospel Music Restoration Project” in the categories list to the right, or click “BGMRP” in the tags below.