Blogging from the Gospel Music Workshop of America: Thursday, August 18

My final day at GMWA was Thursday, though the convention would not conclude until Friday evening.

The morning was spent receiving updates on new music projects from record label owners and promoters. Sandra Smith from Blackberry Records told us about Henry Green’s solo project to be released in January, and the Williams Brothers’ innovative inspirational jazz CD also on its way. Lisa Wheeler, Executive Vice President of ICEE Records, updated everyone on the continued success of Father Hayes and the Warrors’ remix of “Jesus Will Work it Out” on both urban and gospel radio outlets, and that selected members of the choir will be touring across the U.S. to promote the CD.

Chicago’s Kathy Jones of KAE DJ Publishing introduced the GAG to Chiquita Griffin, one of her label’s artists, and asked everyone to mark their calendars for a September 17 gospel festival and talent show in the Windy City. Rev. Charles Anderson of C&R Entertainment is promoting the Texas Trinityaires.

Herman Burroughs of Gospel Warehouse talked about his philosophy behind the “411” compilation and noted that a full CD on the remarkable female quartet Zie’l will be released in the second quarter of 2006. Kingdom Records’ Michael Witherspoon said the label will introduce a new project by Kim Stratton and thanked everyone for helping Shekinah Glory become the indie label Cinderella story of the year.

Cynthia Turner and Heartspeak were the praise break artists. The ensemble traveled from Champaign, Illinois to Milwaukee to sing, and “we didn’t get no sleep,” mourned Cynthia, who moved to the music with the athletic drama of a dancer despite her sleep deprivation.

Kerry Douglas of Gospel Truth Magazine and World Wide Gospel Records recommended the singles “Worship You” by Eric Carrington and “You Survive” and “God Can” by James Fortune and FIYA as deserving of greater radio rotation. Fortune and FIYA will be on the “One Church” tour with Kurt Carr, Rizen, and others. World Wide also has new projects by Walter Barnes & Men of Ministry, the Salem Harmonizers, Brown Boys, and Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson and the Spiritual Voices from Brooklyn.

Keith “Wonderboy” stopped by to say hello to the GAG, and to do a little singing. He is promoting his new project, and I had a chance to say hello to him briefly and get his single sampler for review on TBGB.

Luther Barnes, formerly an AIR Records artist, is now on Malaco, and he invited everyone to attend his annual Fall Gospel Classic in Rocky Mount, NC October 5 – 8.

Later in the evening, I caught the first two hours of the famous GMWA Quartet Program, hosted by Neal Roberson and Tyrone Porter. The audience was almost as star-studded as the stage performers, as Albertina Walker and Dorothy Norwood of the Caravans were in the front row. GMWA quartet showcase winners Reggie & Company from Milwaukee opened the program. The Virginia-aires, Chicago’s own Joey & Veronica Woolfalk and the Woolfalk Singers (Veronica can play herself some bass, saints!), the Brown Boys, the Luckett Brothers, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy also held court while I was in attendance. The Clouds got more than the allotted ten minutes, and deservedly so, as they were the crowd favorite. The highlight of their performance was their arrangement of the GMWA Women of Worship old-school hit “Order My Steps,” which definitely works as a quartet piece. Of course, the Clouds could sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and still wreck the house.

What occurred to me while listening to the quartets and surveying the mixed black and white crowd that turned up for the program — a more mixed audience than any other time at the GMWA — was that quartet singing is the one place where African-American indigenous folk music components still reign supreme. While gospel has gone in a variety of directions – Praise & Worship, Urban, Choral, etc. – and has taken on contemporary musical sounds as a result, quartets have by and large retained their roots tradition. The heavy backbeat, the harmonies, the emotional call-and-response singing, the simple melodies and traditional arrangements, and the evangelical fervor of the singers can still be found in quartets.

The aggressively powerful sound of quartet singing is arguably why so many non-black men enjoy this style of gospel music over all others: it hearkens back to the streetcorner vocal groups of the 50s and 60s, and in many respects bears much in common with male-dominated heavy metal in its sweaty machismo. This is an observation that bears greater research and consideration at another time. For now, reluctantly, it is 10:30 p.m. and I must head back to Chicago, knowing that this program will not conclude for another several hours, perhaps not until I wake up again in the Windy City!

About Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.

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