This wonderful four-disc, 105-track box of postwar Afro-American gospel releases from the 1940s and 1950s was compiled by record collector and gospel historian Opal Louis Nations, and it perfectly captures what was surely a golden age for black gospel. Gospel as we now know it emerged in the South in the early '30s, an outgrowth of the right to assemble and the advent of gospel songwriters like Thomas A. Dorsey (who had sung previously in the secular arena as Georgia Tom), who brought the blues to church, tossed in some ragtime piano rhythms, and almost single-handedly created the genre to the point that his compositions were simply known as "Dorseys.
The Rough Guide series of compilations is generally excellent, but every once a while a dud does pop out. While not bad, this is far from everything it could be, given the range and history of gospel music. It captures some, but not all, the big names. And so listeners have vintage Five Blind Boys of Alabama with "Stand By Me," a song they later revisited, but no Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. And while the Soul Stirrers are here, it's not a cut from their heyday with Sam Cooke, and where are the Highway Q.C.'s? Gospel's real golden age, in the '50s, is woefully under-represented, and while the Golden Gate Quartet, whose influence was paramount to so many, is mentioned in the notes, there's nothing by them. Mahalia Jackson justifiably gets two tracks, but no Clara Ward, and you have to wonder about the inclusion of the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir. The new generation of gospel seems to be lacking, with nothing from the critically acclaimed Sacred Steel school.