Sunday, 8/1/10

by musicclipoftheday

The power of conviction?

Look at that smile (1:35).

The Consolers (Sullivan & Iola Pugh [husband and wife])

“The Grace of God,” live (TV broadcast [TV Gospel Time]), early 1960s


“Waiting For My Child,” live


“I Feel Good,” live



In its classic form, gospel was music designed to kill—to slay the congregation in spirit, moving them not just to laughter, tears, and hollers, but to screams and even seizures. The first woman who started shrieking was known, in the parlance of the gospel quartets, as “Sister Flute.” Big churches had volunteers in nurses’ uniforms to tend to the stricken.

Later these forces were unleashed on white teenagers, to memorable effect. Little Richard, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye, Al Green—two whole generations of soul singers got their start and their sound in church. You know what they can do. And you know the idioms too: You set me free. You set my soul on fire. Have mercy. Help me now. I need you early in the morning/in the midnight hour/in the evening/to hold my hand. Not to mention that rock and roll standby: I feel all right.

But—at the risk of a) sounding like a Christian or b) stating the obvious—in gospel those words make a kind of sense they will never make in secular music. In gospel a grownup can perform them and mean them right down to the ground. The lyrics may not be much in themselves: as [Anthony] Heilbut writes, “the music’s success depended more on its singers than its songs.” But for all the group participation in gospel, for all its expression of communal feeling (and political protest), these songs deal very deeply with loneliness, abandonment, and death. They ask more of God than we can ask of one another. The very idea of “needing” the one you love may predate the gospel explosion, but it is a gospel idea.

Lorin Stein, “The Gospel According To Gospel,” The Paris Review (blog), 7/2/10