Evangeline’s Windy City Pilgrimage

Sometimes a project comes together after a long, thought-out process. Sometimes it’s serendipity – something you couldn’t plan for just happens and the right things come together. Sometimes it spins organically out of an existing situation, a related set of materials nestled together under a broader umbrella.

And sometimes, it’s all of those things … plus, a trip to Chicago, a birthday celebration for an icon and a photo op with one of your heroes.

For our graduate assistant Evangeline Eilers, her recent trip to Chicago had its genesis more than a year ago when she began work on our to-be-released Black Gospel Preachers Project. The BGPP began as a spin-off from the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, now in its tenth year of activity (and freshly installed as part of the National Museum of African American History & Culture).

As the BGMRP picked up steam, an opportunity came to us to digitize the videotaped sermons of the Rev. Clay Evans of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. Evans, an influential African American pastor and gospel musician, has been active in the Chicago-area civil rights movement for more than half a century. For decades, Rev. Evans’ lively sermons – which feature passionate preaching, world-class gospel music and inspired testimonials on a weekly basis – have been preserved on video formats and archived at the Chicago Public Library. Through a series of fortuitous connections – and based largely on our reputation for handling the digitization of thousands of black gospel recordings – the Digital Projects Group was approached about the possibility of digitizing these tapes and making them available to the world.

As of this writing, the digitization of these sermons is complete, but what came next was the more time consuming part – and the part where Evangeline joins our story.

In order to make the videos more useful to our researchers, we knew we needed to do more than simply post them online with a date and a title as the sole metadata. And that meant someone had to sit down and add things like keywords, search terms, scriptural references, song titles and anything else that someone might need to locate in a catalog of hundreds of hours of digitized content.

Evangeline Eilers works in the Riley Digitization Center to add metadata to a sermon from the Rev. Clay Evans video project, July 17, 2017

Evangeline began working with us as an undergraduate student in 2015. She’s worked on a number of projects for us, but she immediately clicked with the Rev. Evans videos. And for the past several months she’s done the heavy lifting on the videotapes’ metadata enhancement process, adding the keywords and info that will eventually make the collection searchable, findable and much more useful to users.

An unexpected side benefit of working on the project came about earlier this summer, when Patty Nolan-Fitzgerald – who has known and worked with Rev. Evans for many years – invited members of the RDC staff associated with the project to come to Rev. Evans’ 92nd birthday party in Chicago. This being summer, and with staff being in and out of the office, it turned out our sole representative who was able to attend was (you guessed it) Evangeline! We were thrilled to be able to give her the opportunity to travel as our representative at the birthday celebration on behalf of the university.

Evangeline and her mother traveled to Chicago to attend the event. She said she spotted many people she recognized from the videos – a choir director, a worship leader, Rev. Evans’ sister Lou Della Evans-Reid and more. After the event that night, she wrote in an email to Darryl Stuhr, the DPG’s Associate Director,

Being in this space with people I have spent so much time watching on the tapes was a surreal experience but I felt that I was among friends.
We joke sometimes that the longer we spend with a project, the more we feel like we “know” the subject of the collection. For example, after I spent months transcribing the audio of the George W. Truett Sermons, my inner dialog spoke in Truett’s voice for a solid month. (I’m not kidding.) For Evangeline, being surrounded by the living embodiment of Christian service, civil rights and community partnership was a fulfilling – if a strangely unreal – experience.

Part of that dreamlike sense came from being in the presence of several civil rights luminaries in the audience that night. Evangeline’s email continued,

As a history major, being in a room with three notable civil rights leaders (Clay Evans, Jesse Jackson, and Louis Farrakhan) was incredible. I am very thankful for this experience!

Photographed at Rev. Evans’ 92nd birthday party are (from left) Allyn Eilers, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Evangeline Eilers, June 25, 2017

Overall, it was a night of celebration not just for Rev. Evans but for the collaborative spirit that brought together a nonagenarian African-American preacher, two noted civil rights leaders, a university digitization center in Central Texas and a project to preserve and spread the Word to any who would hear it, from Chicago to the entire world.

This fall, Evangeline will begin her graduate work in the Department of Museum Studies, and we were thrilled when she accepted a graduate assistantship that will keep her in the RDC for another year. That means another year of connection with the Rev. Evans collection and – perhaps? – an invitation to a 93rd birthday event next summer, something we’re all eager to celebrate.

“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
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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!