Gospel, Vol. 6: Female Gospel Groups 1940-1962
Fremeaux & Associes (2022)
By Robert M. Marovich
If it weren’t for women, there might not be gospel music as we know it today.
A gutsy statement, but accurate. For every Thomas Dorsey, Theodore Frye, and James Cleveland, there were dozens of women who, denied access to the pulpit through denominational fiat, made sacred music their evangelistic outlet. Two of gospel’s first superstars, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson, were women. The history books brim with the names of female pioneers in gospel music, among them Sallie Martin, Roberta Martin (no relation), Willie Mae Ford Smith, and Magnolia Lewis Butts.
Fremeaux & Associes spotlights the estimable contributions of females, specifically female gospel groups, on Gospel: Female Gospel Groups 1940-1962, the sixth volume in its multi-disc reissue effort. The French firm has previously mined the golden age of gospel music with packages on male quartets, guitar evangelists, female soloists, and collections dedicated to Mahalia Jackson and the Roberta Martin Singers.
While the 72-track, 3-CD set collection features many artists whose work has been reissued, it focuses on lesser-known gems from their catalogues, such as a live version of “The Seven Seals” by the Clara Ward Singers with electrifying steel guitar work from Sam Windham. Supplementing the Caravans’ popular “I Won’t Be Back,” led by Shirley Caesar, are some of the group’s early sides for States Records. These include “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “God Is Good to Me,” which Albertina Walker may have brought to the Caravans from her tenure with the Willie Webb Singers (they recorded it for Parrot in 1953).
The smart selection of songs doesn’t leave out regional groups like Wings Over Dixie, Southern Harps, Southern Echoes, Drexall Singers, and the Ingram Gospel Singers. The Ingram group’s pop-infused “Take Time to Be Holy” chastises those who can attend the theater but not the temple of God. Of special interest are 1940’s “I Know I Have Another Building” by the Martin & Morris Singers (an early Sallie Martin aggregation) and the Angelic Gospel Singers’ “All That I Need Is In Jesus,” which showcases the ladies’ shouting side.
Gospel: Female Gospel Groups 1940-1962 includes album notes in French, a summary in English, and a discography that includes everything but the labels associated with the selections. In all, this sixth volume is a well-curated and crisply produced package of performances by women who helped make gospel gospel. Even hardcore collectors will find it enjoyable for its thoughtful blend of songs.
Five of Five Stars
Picks: “I Know I Have Another Building,” “Take Time to Be Holy,” “All That I Need is Jesus.”