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Woke Me Up This Morning

Woke Me Up This Morning: Black Gospel Singers and the Gospel Life

Alan Young
Copyright Date: 1997
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  • Book Info
    Woke Me Up This Morning
    Book Description:

    Many studies of African-American gospel music spotlight history and style. This one, however, is focused mainly on grassroots makers and singers. Most of those included here are not stars. A few have received national recognition, but most are known only in their own home areas. Yet their collective stories presented in this book indicate that black gospel music is one of the most prevalent forms of contemporary American song.

    Its author Alan Young is a New Zealander who came to the South seeking authentic blues music. Instead, he found gospel to be the most pervasive, fundamental music in the contemporary African-American South. Blues, he concludes, has largely lost touch with its roots, while gospel continues to express authentic resources.

    Conducting interviews with singers and others in the gospel world of Tennessee and Mississippi, Young ascertains that gospel is firmly rooted in community life.Woke Me Up This Morningincludes his candid, widely varied conversations with a capella groups, with radio personalities, with preachers, and with soloists whose performances reveal the diversity of gospel styles. Major figures interviewed include the Spirit of Memphis Quartet and the Reverend Willie Morganfield, author and singer of the million-selling "What Is This?" who turned his back on fame in order to pastor a church in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.

    All speak freely in oral-history style here, telling how they became involved in gospel music and religion, how it enriches their lives, how it is connected to secular music (especially blues), and how the spiritual and the practical are united in their performances. Their accounts reveal the essential grassroots force and spirit of gospel music and demonstrate that if blues springs from America's soul, then gospel arises from its heart.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-732-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)

    Blues. Rock ’n’ roll. Memphis. Mississippi. On one level, this is a collection of nouns; two are forms of music, and two are locations in the southern United States. But words can take on powers beyond their meaning, and these four (allowing rock ’n’ roll as one) are among the most potent in the lexicon of American popular music. Blues and rock ’n’ roll are venerated and vital elements in the fabric of American culture, and Memphis and Mississippi are geographic icons throughout the world because of their links with the music. Today, the old hip-swinging guitar and piano-based rock...

    (pp. 3-51)

    The itinerant musician is a recurring figure in the history of southern African-American folk music. Traveling from town to town with only a few possessions, such singers made a living performing for tips on street corners and at social gatherings. Typically they were blues singers, and the history of the blues contains more than enough footloose minstrels to validate the stereotype. But not all were singing blues. A number used the same instruments—usually guitar or piano—as the blues players, performed in a similar style, and sang religious songs. The need to make a living was common to all...

    (pp. 52-104)

    Quartets occupy a unique place in gospel music. Although they are an essential part of African-American religious music, few are directly affiliated with churches, and much of their singing is done outside the church environment. They are the best-known practitioners of gospel, rivaled in popularity only by a few of the top soloists, yet some church people, especially those of the “sanctified” pentecostalist faiths, regard them with suspicion because of their flamboyance and the worldly aspects of their craft. But throughout their history, the quartets have been the performers of gospel music who have had the closest links with their...

    (pp. 105-140)

    “The first time I ever heard a boogie-woogie piano was the first time I ever went to church. That was the Holy Ghost Church in Dallas, Texas,” Texas blues guitarist Aaron “T-Bone” Walker told an interviewer in 1955.¹ He didn’t say who the pianist was, but blues and gospel historian Paul Oliver suggests it might have been Arizona Dranes.² On the face of it, his comment is little more than wishful thinking, except that Arizona Juanita Dranes, a teenaged blind pianist from Fort Worth, was playing her up-tempo—albeit non-boogie-woogie—piano style for prayer meetings around Fort Worth and Dallas...

  8. 4 ON THE AIR
    (pp. 141-185)

    Radio has played—and still plays—an important role in the gospel music story. Since the 1920s, preachers, choirs, soloists, and quartets have made broadcasts with the dual purpose of spreading the message and promoting “in person” appearances. The development in the 1960s of tightly focused radio stations aiming for specific audiences led to the establishment of gospel broadcasting, and, today, virtually every city with a significant African-American population has at least one gospel station. Memphis, in the heart of the “Bible belt,” has five for a population of about nine hundred thousand (other city stations also have occasional gospel...

    (pp. 186-232)

    The African-American church was born as a direct rejection of segregation in established white churches. It had its origins in the late eighteenth century, when some white churches opened their doors to slaves—but restricted them to designated seating, or held separate services for them the white services. From about 1770, slaves were allowed to hold their own chaperoned services, and, in 1773, slave preacher George Liele established the first African-American church, at Silver Bluff, South Carolina. Overt moves against white-imposed segregation in worship began in 1776, when blacks who had been attending the First Baptist Church in Petersburgh, Virginia,...

    (pp. 233-262)

    The grainy videotape shows an elderly man seated on a plain wooden chair and holding a steel-bodied National resonator guitar, the sort prized by 1930s blues players for their volume and durability. Before he plays it again, the old man has a message for the mainly young, mainly white audience watching him out of the range of the camera:

    I was brought up in church from a little boy on up. And I didn’t believe in no blues. I was too churchy, and I didn’t believe in that. And I talked against it. And I really was called to preach...

    (pp. 263-264)

    It was a cool fall Sunday evening when I traveled to Tunica, Mississippi, for the anniversary of the Tunica Harmonizers. I’d heard the program advertised on a gospel radio station, with the added promise of “mystery guests from Chicago.” The Pilgrim Jubilees, from Chicago, were somewhere in Mississippi, so maybe I would be in luck. I had never been in Tunica, although I had driven through its outskirts on Highway 61 several times. But a building called the Tunica Auditorium shouldn’t be hard to find in a town of about fourteen hundred people. Up and down the main street. No...

    (pp. 265-278)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 279-300)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 301-316)
    (pp. 317-320)