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He Keeps my Soul
New Hope Gospel Singers
The History of Gospel Music
June is National Black Music month
The history of Gospel Music is a legacy of tradition; its evolution demonstrates the progress and social state of the country via the cadenced affirmations of the African-American community. Various writers place the first period of gospel music somewhere between 1896 and 1920. This period includes the Azusa Street Revival. The Azusa Street Revival was held in Los Angeles, it is credited with launching the nationwide spread of Pentecostalism and the rise of sanctified preachers and their congregations. Sanctified or Pentecostal preachers and their congregations employed hand clapping and added drums and tambourine to the lone piano of the standard hymn to deliver the gospel…the good news. The “Good News” was God had delivered the African American community from slavery, from the post-civil war backdrop of discrimination of Jim Crow and separate but “unequal” legislation…past the reconciliation of the disinclined concession of equity and tolerance to fair-mindedness.
Praying, singing and testifying emerged as the primary spiritual conduct for the African-American church community. This bearing fostered an environment for practices and beliefs that accommodated the birth, observance and development of African-American gospel music. Because of a strong religious faith, many African Americans believed the collective providence of the African-American community was yoked with God’s good favor in the absence of societal sensitivity and legal backing). The rhythm of religious music has been an indicator of the organized conscious and status of the country. From the chronicled annals of slavery, the music consisted of the standard, long metered hymn. The hymn gave way to the supplicated plea of the spiritual. As change is conscious progressed, the more upbeat and expectant reasoning of “authentic” jubilee was evident, resulting in a measured assurance in the 3/4 and 4/4 beat of gospel.
In the 1890’s evidence of the black gospel sound was witnessed in the renditions of quartets, most notable around this time was the college trained Fisk Jubilee Quartet. The quartet sound refers to the singing of songs in four part harmony and not the number of members in a group. Although there was resistance to gospel, the highly developed rhythmic sense and precise execution of quartet music represented that part of the spiritual influenced by European chorale singing and acceptable to middle class blacks and white aficionados. The great migration brought many groups north. The appeal of professional Gospel quartets such as the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Soul Stirrers, and the Dixie Hummingbirds in the 1930’s helped to further promote the ascent of gospel music. The Golden Era of Gospel music (roughly 1950 – 1977) is defined as a time in which Gospel music flourished. Records were selling and the music was being performed professionally to a growing audience.
In San Antonio Texas, as in many cities across the country, gospel music experienced growing pains…the same ups and down, resistance and progression. Years ago, Vernie Mae Biser, a woman many credit with introducing gospel music in the San Antonio area said this:
I was playing the piano at age 4 for my father’s Sunday school youth choir. I was just banging on the keys. At age 9, I was playing at Greater Mt. Olive. I graduated from DDB (Deaf, Dumb and Blind) in Austin with a certificate in vocal and music. I had a problem with my eyes so I qualified. They taught you everything about music. I even learned how to make a piano. Duke Ellington and his father came to DDB. They heard my talent and tried to convince my parents to let me go to New York but my parents wouldn’t let me go. I attended Guadalupe College, then St. Philips College. Reverend J.N. Byrd presented me in my first recital at Greater Mt. Olive. That’s when things took off. I became Minister of Music for the Victory choir at the West End Baptist Church. A movement began with people in the choir. Reverend W.I. Rector Sr. was Pastor. He was a songwriter and published “He Keeps my Soul”, “There’s a Hand I Can See Leading Me” and “Winding My Way Back Home.” Some of the original members of the Victory choir were Gwendolyn Rector, Dorothy Hardgrove, Mildred Wilson, Marie Minor and Julius Moore. The music we were singing caught on so more musicians came. Our choir grew. Reverend Rector left to establish Stranger’s Temple Church, after he left, the choir moved to anthems and classical. I went to Antioch. You know my grandmother was a full blooded Indian and I had that beat inside of me-bmp, bmp, bmp, bmp…bmp, bmp, bmp, bmp. Vernie had the beat and she played it all.
Mrs. Biser spoke of gospel singers who came from great distances to San Antonio, taking a certain route…a safe and nurtured route. “They performed at Antioch because Reverend Rufus Wilson opened the church to them when we weren’t allowed in the auditorium downtown.”
They were the Soul Stirrers, the Mississippi Blind Boys, the Southern Wonders, the Gospel Caravan and even Papa Staple and the Staple singers. There were Gospel artists who performed at the Carver Library. “What was that Franklin girl’s name? She and her father, they came to the Carver.” That girl was Aretha Franklin and her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin.
A charter for the quartet singers association was granted in San Antonio and more Gospel singers came. There were local quartets, the New Hope Gospel Singers and the Spiritual Five (the Winters Brothers) who were about to record on the Peacock label, when the army began picking them off one by one. There were the Gospel Harmonizers, the Brooks Singers of La Vernia and the Jacobs Chapel quartet, the oldest known quartet in San Antonio. Tent built churches sprang up and midnight rambles of singing and sermonettes. There was a gospel fervor.
While living in Atlanta Georgia, I had the privilege of worshipping at Salem Bible Church, and singing with the Jasper Williams Inspirational singers, fondly known as JWIS Praise team (pronounced J-WIZ) one ministry in two locations…east and west side. I enjoyed the fellowship with the other singers and musicians…traveling together singing, talking, cutting up, having a great time and getting ready for a greater time. We knew anytime Senior went anywhere to preach, a wonderful time in the Lord was on its way! Jasper Williams, Jr. is Senior Pastor of Salem Bible Church (formerly Salem Baptist Church) where he has presided over the body for more than 40 years. In addition, Pastor Williams is a highly revered Gospel Recording artist. Joseph L. Williams PhD (affectionately known as Pastor Joe), 2nd son pastors with his father at Salem and is an awesome Preacher, Pastor, Author, Innovator and Vocalist in his own right. Jasper Williams III (Thirdum), first son left Salem to found his individual ministry at “The Church”, where he co-pastors with wife Alecia Williams and heads up a ministry, where members are lead to “Be What God Called You to Be”. Theirs is a legacy of preaching.
According to Malaco Records which has hosted noted gospel greats such as James Cleveland and Albertina Walker, Jasper Williams has amassed numerous recordings, including nationally acclaimed sermons like "I Fell in Love with a Prostitute", "If Walls Could Talk", "Playboy Comes Home" and many more. Not only has his voice been spotlighted in the pulpit, but he has recorded with artists like Aretha Franklin and Dottie Peoples(former Minister of Music at Salem).
In July 2010, Pastor Jasper Williams Jr. and the Salem Bible Church Mass Choir released the long awaited “Old Landmark.” As the song relates…I am The Way, the Truth and the Light...
After twenty years, the voice of Rev. Jasper Williams, Jr. – the celebrated Son of Thunder – is back on record. His label, Church Door Records, is reactivated, sporting what looks like a stylish new logo. The Old Landmark, aka Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, is ringing with the din of traditional singing. All is well.
Gospel enthusiasts will remember Rev. Williams from his popular sermons of the 1960s and 1970s, sporting titles such as I’m Black and I’m Proud, If Walls Could Talk, and I Fell in Love with a Prostitute. His recorded sermons were among the first religious albums that Stan Lewis issued on his Shreveport, Louisiana-based Jewel Records. For his own label, Church Door, Williams recorded the eulogy he delivered for his friend and inspiration, the late Rev. C.L. Franklin.
Next week, Williams will release on Church Door a combination CD/DVD called Landmark, featuring the Salem Bible Church Mass Choir. The first single, “Down Through the Years,” is already making noise on radio. It’s a congregational song in the old time way. It recalls the old time prayer meeting songs of fellow Atlantan Dr. C.J. Johnson and Regina Belle’s nostalgic single, “God is Good.”
Landmark’s finest moment is its namesake track, Rev. Brewster’s “Old Landmark.” The meaty arrangement and mid-tempo flow makes for as well-crafted a version of this classic as I’ve heard in recent times. In addition to a string of bluesy gospel solos, Williams’ moody, minor-keyed “Calvary” is a highlight of the album. “I Am the Way” is a spirited hand-clapper led by explosive female vocalist Danetra Moore. Williams’ son, Dr. Joseph L. Williams, handles lead vocals on some of the tracks.
Rev. Jasper Williams, Jr. has always been a fan of the traditional sound. He said, "I grew up listening to James Cleveland, the Southern Wonders of Memphis. E.L. McKinney was my best friend and sang in that group. I heard that kind of music as a young man."
Landmark would have been even better had all the songs been from the traditional repertory, similar to what Bishop G.E. Patterson did on his Singing the Old Time Way collection. Nevertheless, Landmark is a delightful project to hear and to watch, truly pleasurable, a reminder of how much good clean fun gospel music, and church, can be. The Black Gospel blog, July 2010
Traveling and singing with Senior Pastor was one of the greatest experiences of my life, as you might imagine. As a member of the Praise team, led by Elder Kelvin Manson, we were charged with setting the atmosphere with Praise and Worship, readying the congregation to hear the word of God through His chosen vessel, Jasper Williams Jr.
Remember “Devotion”, deacons lined up in a row taking their turns at singing hymns and praying, bidding the Holy Spirit “Come”. Jesus is on the Main Line, Tell Him what you want. That is Praise and Worship – the Ole School way and it’s still good. Today, Praise and Worship music is an integral part of consecration and preparation. Also, a prelude to gospel worship service, it engages expectant worshippers in the good news that is to come. During Praise and Worship service, the Holy Spirit is petitioned to fall fresh on the crowd.
Tom Booth of SpiritandSong.Com says this:
These words now practically define a musical style — simple, singable and a repetitive chorus — and have almost helped create a Christian sub-culture, much like hip-hop became more than a musical style and became a sub-culture unto itself.
But below the surface, what does it mean to praise and worship? I will suggest that praise is to "lift up, to exalt, to give honor" to someone or something. To worship is to "offer right worth," to get low, to submit, and to abandon. I have been talking to a couple of campus ministers lately and they have testified to the musical language this style of music carries with it, a language that today's young person responds to. Over the years, I have learned and used several styles in liturgy, worship and prayer, and it becomes hard to learn another set of 200 songs! There was the early Catholic Folk Mass repertoire, the "Glory and Praise" years, the Charismatic movement's song choices, and on and on. I have written over 300 songs myself and there is no wonder that I have to work especially hard on remembering lyrics.
But most importantly, we need to "remember our audience" (I think Aristotle said that?), and our "audience" is really no audience at all. The young church needs to sing, pray and "own" its faith. Modern worship, Praise and Worship, Contemporary Catholic Music — whatever we want to call it — can help young people to pray. Let us serve our youth so that they can "lift up" the name of Jesus, and fall down in worship before him as well.
Well-known Praise and Worship artists and some of my personal favorites include Israel Houghton and New Breed, Martha Munizzi, Anthony Evans, Micah Stampley and Donnie McClurkin- all award winning gospel singers. They are God’s cheerleaders, leading His people through worship in song.
Different tempos of music have moved with the soul of God’s people. Their grief, pain, joy and love have been conspicuously present in the music. Gospel music is the rhythmic and lyrical manifestation of overcoming, of faith…realized. Remembering the old days and knowing God has brought us through and if He did it before, He can do it again. The deeper the belief and relationship with God, the greater the strength. Senior Pastor always says “Much Prayer, Much power…Little prayer, Little power”. The church has long been a medium of edification, training and hope. And when praises go up, blessings come down. Now isn’t that good news.
The Spiritual Five
Who is your favorite gospel artist?
- Jasper Williams Jr.
- T.D. Jakes
- Joel Olsteen
- Bishop Paul Mortin
written by Jennie Lee Riddle in 2009
Great is Your Mercy
Israel Houghton-New Breed
You are Good