The Golden Era Gospel Blog would like to wish Rev. Esther Ford a Happy 80th birthday! For those of you who don't know, Rev. Ford joined the Clara Ward Singers in 1958 and was one of the founding members of the Stars of Faith. Truly a living legend!
With over 1,000 uploads, if you've watched a YouTube video about Golden Era Gospel, you've likely watched a video uploaded by this guy. Dwayne "Rowoches" Lightsey, Jr. is a collector of golden era vinyl, he can sing (he can hit that high whoo like Marion!) and a historian who is listed as a contributor to the Hayes and Laughton Gospel Discography. Dwayne was kind enough to answer a few of my questions and even send a Christmas Card. Thanks! LOL!
TGEGB: I would start off with a gospel question, but I think this one needs to go first. How did you get the nickname "Rowoches"?
LOL! That’s something that EVERYONE asks me! My screen name is basically the “Southern” pronunciation of the word ‘roaches’. Knowing several people from the South, especially older relatives and friends, I’ve heard them say certain words differently. Words like ‘coach’ and ‘roach’ are words they seem to add an extra syllable to, and it has always been funny to me. TGEGB: How did your interest in Golden Era Gospel begin?
I’d say my interest began in church. My home church in Baltimore, Maryland, had several choirs/groups over the years, and has been affiliated with several notable musicians and singers in the Baltimore area, like the late Jerry Caesar, who is the nephew of Shirley Caesar. Three of the choirs consisted of members over fifty years old. They would sing a lot of the traditional Gospel songs that many soloists, groups, and choirs from the Golden Age of Gospel recorded. Those songs always appealed to me the most. I LOVED to see and hear them sing.
TGEGB: Who was the first Gospel singer you began to like? Mahalia Jackson was the very first. When I was in the first grade, my mother borrowed IMITATION OF LIFE from a cousin of ours. The funeral scene at the end used to scare me to death, but I loved to hear Mahalia sing. After that, I began to do research and I began to collect her music. In doing that, I came across other Gospel singers like Clara Ward, Alex Bradford, Rosetta Tharpe, and many others.
TGEGB: Do you remember the very first piece of Traditional Gospel music you purchased?
I surely do! It was a cassette of Mahalia Jackson’s called GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN. It consisted of 10 songs from her Apollo years. The one song that I truly enjoyed from that tape was “He’s My Light,” which is one of Roberta Martin’s songs, I believe.
TGEGB: How long have you been collecting Golden Era Gospel music?
I’ve been collecting since 1996. After I got out of my Mahalia phase, I moved into my Clara Ward phase. After Clara Ward, I moved into my Alex Bradford phase. After Alex Bradford, I just started collecting just about EVERYBODY!
TGEGB: How big is your music collection as of now?
That’s a difficult question to answer. LOL!! Over the years I’ve come into contact with people here in the US, as well as abroad, and they have shared music with me. Every now and then I’ll find something on eBay or in some of the smaller record shops that are still in business. I’ve also borrowed albums from several people. So, considering all of that, I’m sure I have over a thousand things; be it cassettes, CDs, LPs, 45’s, 78’s, videos, DVDs, sheet music, pictures, books, etc.
TGEGB: What albums from your collection do you put into heavy rotation?
It really depends on the type of mood I’m in. Within the past couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to the Angelic Gospel Singers’ LIVE album. The two songs that I continuously play are “I’ve Got Victory” and “If You Can’t Help Me.” I’ve also been playing songs from Evangelist Rosie Wallace’s GOD CARES album. The songs that I’m feeling from that are “The Lord Is My Shepherd” and “God Cares.” So, basically, it’s all a mood thing for me.
TGEGB: You mentioned Clara Ward earlier and I know she’s one of your absolute favorites. I also know that you’ve met several members of her group. Who would they happen to be?
In 2006, I traveled to California and met Mildred Means, Vermettya Royster, and Anthony Lawson. In 2007, I met Clara Wards’ sister, Willa Ward. In 2008, I met Esther Ford, Calvin & Malvilyn Statham, and Barry Currington. Other alumni from the Ward Singers that I’ve never met in person, but have spoken to via telephone are Alice Houston and Madeline Thompson, who is still keeping the name alive on the West Coast. I still keep in touch with several of them.
TGEGB: Have you met or spoken to any other Gospel pioneers?
Yes, Sir, I have. Thanks to you, I had an opportunity to speak to Eugene Smith, of the Roberta Martin Singers, two weeks before his death. I had a chance to talk to Albertina Walker in 2009. When she answered the phone, I forgot EVERYTHING I was going to say. She just laughed. I’ve also been in touch with Richard Smallwood, Nathan Murphy, Rev. James Herndon, Julia Mae Price-Williams, Pastor Douglas Howell (Chukwuemeka), and several others. I’ve met George Jordan (writer of “Jesus Can Work It Out”) and Diane Williams, who is known for her sick ad-libbing skills! There are some others, but my mind shutting down. LOL!
TGEGB: You have a video on YouTube of you singing "Traveling Shoes" which was received well. Can we expect an encore anytime soon?
I’ve posted over a thousand things on YouTube, and of them all, the “Travelin’ Shoes Spoof” that I did with my cousin, Armando Bickum (Tip99 on YouTube) seems to be one of the very few that I frequently receive messages about. Because Mondo and I live over 15 hours away from each other, we can’t get together as often as we’d like. HOWEVER, sometime next year we plan to do some more videos for our fans. LOL! We’ve already discussed some songs, and have even gotten requests from a few people.
My meager list of Golden Era Gospel Christmas songs is nothing compared to what Bob Marovich has in store for you this Saturday on Gospel Memories. Bob is dedicating his entire 1 hour show on December 18th to Christmas Music that you've probably never heard before. If your ears are itching to hear some Christmas music with that Golden Era beat, tune in Saturday morning at wluw.org from 10-11am CT and give the show a listen. Don't forget to give Bob a call during the program. Or if you miss it, don't forget that you can download the broadcast 1-2 days after the original broadcast.
Ron Greer of Bay City, TX has notified the blog that the wife of Leonard "Sonny" Austin passed away during the past few days. Leonard Austin is the son of the late Rev. James Austin and Roberta Martin. Please keep the Austin family in your prayers during this time.
You'll recall that this Blog was nominated for an award by the Black Weblog Awards this summer. I didn't win, but there's always 2011! Well, back in October of this year, the Black Weblog Awards posted my blogging story on their blog. I didn't find it until today. C'mon Joe, get with it now, stop dragging!
I decided after over a year of the same old same old, it was time to give the blog a slight renovation. The first thing you've probably noticed is my new, self designed banner. The new banner contains from left to right, Roberta Martin, Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, Rev. James Cleveland and Clara Ward. I also took the liberty of adding a few new widgets like a search bar, the ability to subscribe to my posts, and a contact form. That's standard stuff for most blogs. I know I'm late to the program, but it's finally here.
I've also created a Twitter page especially for the blog. I have a widget for that, too. Follow me @goldeneragospel!
The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress has a collection of 100 blues and gospel recordings made between 1938 and 1943 at the Fort Valley Music Festivals held at Fort Valley State College (now Fort Valley State University) in Fort Valley, Georgia. Of these 100 recordings, approximately 44 of them are gospel recordings.
North Carolina is the home of Caravans alumni Rev. James Herndon and Pastor Shirley Caesar, and Rev. F.C. Barnes and the Barnes Family of gospel singers. North Carolina is also home to Shane Steward-Cowan, a young Golden Era Gospel aficionado.
TGEGB: When did you start listening to Golden Era Gospel Music?
I would say that question has two answers to it! Officially, I started being a fan when I was 18, and got my first computer and was just listening to music, when I ran into a song by Mahalia Jackson from a movie I had seen when I was younger, called Imitation of Life,the song being of course, "Troubles Of The World". So I started listening more to her music, and that lead me to listen to others, such as The Caravans, and The Original Gospel Harmonettes. And I would also say unofficially, I been listening to it my whole life! A lot of the songs that are sung by the groups, are songs I heard growing up here in North Carolina, where EVERYONE it seems like sings gospel! I remember hearing and singing songs like "Heavy Load" (Edna Gallmon Cooke) and "When The Gates Swing Open" (Clara Ward), and many others. TGEGB: Who are your favorite artists?
The Caravans, The Original Gospel Harmonettes, Edna Gallmon Cooke, Willie Mae Ford Smith, The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, And The Clara Ward Singers.
TGEGB: Who is your favorite golden era gospel artist(s) of all time?
I would say that would be Dorothy Love Coates and The Original Gospel Harmonettes! Their music had a passion and intensity that few could match! Oh and add, The Davis Sisters, The Meditation Singers, The Angelics, And The Roberta Martin Singers.
TGEGB: Tell us a little bit about your YouTube videos.
My videos are very much a mixture of different types of Golden Age Gospel. Posted, I have some very early material from people such as Arizona Dranes, and Clara Ghoulston (The Georgia Peach). I also have several WWII era sides from Sallie Martin and Her Singers of Joy, as well as The Gospel Harmoneers, later to become The Original Gospel Harmonettes. There is also a great amount of music from The Caravans, who rank with the Gospel Harmonettes as being my favorite group, lol. Songs such as their first cut, "Think Of His Goodness" in 1952, as well as songs they did over the years, such as "Steal Away", "Lord Keep Me Day by Day", and so forth. I also wanted to show case some other music that others may not have heard before, such as from the Group Sweet Honey In The Rock. I also have music posted by The Clara Ward Singers, The Golden Harps, The Brewsteraires, Edna Gallmon Cooke, The Original Gospel Harmonettes, and so forth.
TGEGB: Do you sing or lead any Golden Era Gospel songs in a group or choir?
I actually do, I sing with several groups, as I come from a hot bed of Gospel Singing! I sing with Steve Wilson And The Love Center Choir, The Hood Seminary Gospel Choir, and The Anointed Voices. One song in particular I am working on getting into the mix of our different types of songs, is Kitty Parham's "I"m Looking To Jesus"!
TGEGB: What's you favorite Gospel song? I would say it would be with out a shadow of a doubt, the song "I'm Sealed" by the Original Gospel Harmonettes!
TGEGB: Is singing in your blood? Any particular Gospel artist have influence on your on personal style?
Why yes it is actually! My grandmother, and her sisters, and brothers, sung together as The Voices of Inspiration back in the 70s into the 90s. My great Grandmother, Etta Ree Allison Partee is also another singer, who at the age of 85 is still singing around North Carolina. And I would dare say the one gospel artist whom has influenced me the most, would be the late great Albertina Walker. I have a husky tenor voice, that I have musically without knowing adapted to Tina's singing style! Also the level of sincerity that she displayed has and will always be amazing to me! Will never be another like her!
A fellow gospel music historian lamented about the homogeneity among radio stations today when it comes to chosing Christmas songs. As he put it, "If I hear "Grandma got run over.." one more time, I'm going to run over grandpa". Unfortunately, it sounds like grandpa will have to brace for impact!
Many of you are probably looking to alternatives to the Christmas songs being played over and over all month long. "Silent Night" by the Temptations is wonderful, but you grow tired of it after hearing it for the 3,693rd time! So, here are a few Golden Era Gospel Christmas Songs and albums to add to your listening rotation this season. I've provided links to songs and albums that are readily available for purchase. Some of these songs may be hard to find, but if you find them, you'll be pleased, no doubt.
We all know Chicago is the birthplace of the black gospel sound, where Thomas Dorsey, Roberta Martin, Ralph Goodpastuer, Robert Anderson, Albertina Walker, Willie Webb, and many others cultivated their craft. Today, it is still is a hotbed of black gospel, home to gospel artists like DeAndre Patterson, the Barrett Sisters, Lecresia Campbell, Ron Barrett, Jessy Dixon, and dozens of others. Chicago Mag has chosen "40 Reasons to ♥ Chicago", and the fact that gospel music is still being played in the very churches where it originated is just one of those reasons.