Classic Gospel – Essential Recordings: Week 112

“Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray” Frederick ‘Nee’ Smith & the Sensational Gospel Light

Rae Cox 144 early 1960s

The Rae Cox and Enrica labels were formed by veteran jazz musician Teddy McRae and Eddie Wilcox sometime around 1959. The labels featured RnB, doo-wop, and a fair amount of gospel. It is even possible that the enigmatic Esquerita (aka Eskew Reeder) accompanied Rev. Willie Green and the Clovertones’ on their two-sider “Didn’t it Rain” (Enrica 122). Esquerita is also credited as accompanying Evangelist Rosa Shaw on a Rae Cox single, though my 45-rpm copy of Shaw identifies Robert Banks as the keyboardist.

In any event, the well-known gospel accompanist Robert Banks is present on organ for “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray” by Frederick ‘Nee’ Smith and the Sensational Gospel Light. All I know about Smith and the Sensational Gospel Light was that they are a mixed group that had at least one another release, on the Soul label (as the Gospel Lights), and that “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray” is an absolute knockout. It is a marvelous blend of gospel, doo-wop, and proto-soul in the style of performances such as Maggie Ingram and the Six Trumpets’ “My Jesus, He’s Pleased” (Nashboro, 1961). The song is led by Smith who can transition seamlessly from smooth crooner to melodic gospel shouter. And when Smith gets to shouting, not only can he break glass, he can just about knock down a brick wall. When he shouts, “Lord, have mercy,” its more of a command than a solemn prayer.

“Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray” bears very little resemblance to the spiritual of the same name, though it does draw its message and strength from the better-known composition. Find this record. Play it over and over again. And if anyone knows more about Frederick Smith and the Gospel Lights, could you enlighten me?

Bob Marovich

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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