Help a Gospel Music Newbie
September 30, 2008 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Can anybody recommend some traditional black gospel recordings?

I guess I have a thing for good old fashion gospel music because everytime I hear a choir going full tilt it sends a chill down my spine. Sadly I know very little about the genre and would like some recommendations. I'm not terribly's the sonic qualities I like.
posted by punkfloyd to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
The Smithsonian Folkways label may be a good place to start. The have a long history of field and commercial recordings, and you can sample/download individual album tracks from their website. Their album liiner notes are usually quite thorough, and many can be downloaded as pdfs as well.
posted by dr. boludo at 11:56 AM on September 30, 2008

Precious Lord: The Great Gospel Songs of Thomas A. Dorsey, is one I can personally recommend. Also, Leonard Lopate does a Gospel Show every year on Good Friday that you might like -- he includes a play list too. You might also enjoy Say Amen, Somebody -- both the movie and the soundtrack -- I haven't seen it in years but remember really enjoying it (features Thomas A. Dorsey and others).
posted by nnk at 12:01 PM on September 30, 2008

Seconding punkfloyd's suggestion and further recommending Classic African American Gospel as a good place to start. It was reviewed on NPR's Fresh Air which gave it very high marks. That link will let you hear the interview as well as some of the tunes on the compilation.
posted by Rewind at 12:05 PM on September 30, 2008

Er... sorry. Seconding dr. boludo's suggestion of Smithsonian Folkways.
posted by Rewind at 12:07 PM on September 30, 2008

Blind Boys of Alabama? But sometimes they work with "secular" people too.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:15 PM on September 30, 2008

Andrae Crouch has a huge catalog of music that fits your bill.

Rev. Milton Brunson and the Thompson Community Singers are spine-tingly awesome.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 12:28 PM on September 30, 2008

Etta James : Take It To The Limit. There is a version somewhere online where she's backed by a full gospel choir but I heard it once and couldn't find it again.

Edwin Hawkins Singers : O Happy Day

A more modern style of gospel is Sounds of Blackness
posted by essexjan at 12:32 PM on September 30, 2008

This is the mother lode. You can do no better.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:37 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love Rhino's Soul & Inspiration. Ignore the fact that Paul Simon is the first track listed.
posted by turbodog at 1:02 PM on September 30, 2008

I second Dr. Wu's recommendation of the Goodbye Babylon box set. For a more modern take, check out Sweet Honey in the Rock.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:12 PM on September 30, 2008

Anything by The Soul Stirrers -- with and without Sam Cooke.

This performance by Mahalia Jackson is stunning.
Then there's the rockin' Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
posted by Jode at 1:32 PM on September 30, 2008

Blind Willie Johnson, American Primitive, Vol. 1 and all those included on it if you want early-to-mid 20th century things. The Rev. James Cleveland is also pretty good, not yet mentioned above. Rev. Charlie Jackson does a mix of more traditional gospel and R&B/blues guitar that might fairly be called "gospel funk."
posted by el_lupino at 1:41 PM on September 30, 2008

Damn you, Jode, for beating me to the Sister Rosetta recommendation (look at her go here and here, and you'll never think of Angus Young the same way again).

But I have another suggestion: The Staple Singers, the earlier the better.
posted by Rykey at 2:56 PM on September 30, 2008

Their later CDs are very contemporary but early Take 6, particularly their recording of "Mary Don't You Weep," is amazing and classic.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 3:30 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I rushed in here to concur about Mahalia Jackson (and I still do), until Rykey brought out the child in me with The Staple Singers. I'm a more middle to late era fan of the family, but boy, did they know how to do it.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 4:11 PM on September 30, 2008

Aretha Franklin's 1972 live album "Amazing Grace" features a full gospel choir backing the Queen of Soul doing gospel standards. Unbelievably good.
posted by egret at 6:22 PM on September 30, 2008

Agreed that "Goodbye Babylon" is the end-all-be-all, but I've found a great collection called "Amazing Gospel" (available here) which gives a terrific overview.
posted by Overzealous at 6:32 PM on September 30, 2008

Goodbye Babylon is one of the few of my countless recordings that will be grabbed in case of fire. This is one of those posts that makes me realize I am not alone in the universe. (If you start thinking about bluegrass gospel, and you should, Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys : Clinch Mountain Gospel is the be all and end all...)
posted by TomSophieIvy at 8:24 PM on September 30, 2008

Don't miss Amazing Grace on WKCR every sunday morning from 8-10 AM Eastern. You will hear a whole lotta great gospel.
posted by Jode at 8:32 PM on September 30, 2008

First, this post by y2karl collected a stunning amount of video of exactly the kind of stuff you're looking for. Go crazy, but make sure to watch the Dixie Hummingbirds. :)

2nd, Dorothy Love Coates is amazing. Seriously:

Perhaps the most underrated gospel vocalist and songwriter of black gospel's golden age, Dorothy Love Coates represented, in the words of Craig Werner's A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America, "the best of what the early '60s offered: a model of call and response rooted in an unflinching engagement with history; an understanding of the world that sends pulses of energy back and forth between gospel and the blues; an unwavering commitment to the beloved community; a refusal to be seduced into a mainstream where the value of life is measured in money; and music so powerful it can change your life."

This best-of is all you need; it's one of the greatest 60s gospel records I've ever heard. When Coates and crew break into "99 and a Half (Just Won't Do)" you'll be convinced.

Dorothy recorded for the Specialty label, which was a stronghold of great gospel during the 50s and 60s, including the Soul Stirrers, who had already been around for more than a decade (and recorded a ton of great stuff for Specialty - see this album) *before* Sam Cooke joined them in 1951 and made them huge. The Cooke era stuff is wonderful, of course - rocking, soulful, gorgeous black gospel. This album has songs from different eras of the group.

I also can't believe no one's mentioned the Swan Silvertones, one of the greatest gospel groups ever and one of my all-time favorites. Here's a perfect place to start.

Following Rykey, I'd recommend the early Staple Singers, before they went pop-soul, as fantastic trad gospel. I love the late 60s/early 70s pop-soul stuff they did for Stax, don't get me wrong, but the songs they recorded for Vee-Jay in the 50s are absolute gems (first two albums, compilation).

Going back a bit, I love the Golden Gate Quartet's stuff from the 30s and 40s. These recordings were highly influential.

The Document label has done a great job of unearthing tons of lesser-known regional gospel from the 20s-40s and packaged them in nice compilations. Sound quality is an issue, but I don't mind because so many of the songs really shine.

I guess I have a thing for good old fashion gospel music because everytime I hear a choir going full tilt it sends a chill down my spine

Amen, brother, amen.
posted by mediareport at 9:35 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Must second the Reverend James Cleveland. Anything of his. Anything. He was the man. I Don't Feel No Ways Tired was my favorite back in the day. He sings solo with a backing choir. It's on You Tube if you want to hear it right this minute.

There was a song that I heard as a kid that was recorded in the 70s, but it sounded like the old time gospel of my Grandma's day with better production values: Rough Side of the Mountain by Rev. FC Barnes and Rev. Janice Brown. Lord, but did they sound ancient to my little ears. It's a good song, though. I've heard a lot of the old groups, like The Pilgrim Jubilees, The Jackson Southernaires and there's a whole label devoted to those artists.

I'll say Shirley Caesar as well, because her voice is a traditional gospel voice. Vanessa Bell Armstrong usually sings in the older style with a choir; you've heard her sing the theme to the TV show Amen (which Andrae Crouch wrote). Artists like the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Andrae Crouch, the Staple Singers and the Hawkins Family are more 70s-80s pop-soul gospel, and maybe not exactly what you're looking for, but it's some really fantastic music too. And to think that when I was a kid, the adults at the church I attended thought their music was sinful because it had a good beat! I can't imagine what they would've thought of gospel hip-hop!
posted by droplet at 10:41 PM on September 30, 2008

Piggybacking again on what Jode said, Live365 [Some subscrip-only stations, but mostly free!] is a great free web radio portal that is sure to have stations specifically playing what you're looking for. Go there, plug in some of the names thrown out in this thread, and enjoy.
posted by Rykey at 8:28 AM on October 1, 2008

Suggestions from a lady here at work who knoews her stuff:

Dorinda Clark Cole
Kirk Franklin
Smokey Norful
Mary Mary
Yolanda Adams
Marvin Sapp
posted by repoman at 10:19 AM on October 1, 2008

Mahalia Jackson, Gospels, Spirituals & Hymns and Gospels, Spirituals, & Hymns, Vol. 2.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:02 PM on October 1, 2008

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