Alongside Willie Mae Ford Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is widely acclaimed among the greatest Sanctified gospel singers of her generation; a flamboyant performer whose music often flirted with the blues and swing, she was also one of the most controversial talents of her day, shocking purists with her leap into the secular market – by playing nightclubs and theaters, she not only pushed spiritual music into the mainstream, but in the process also helped pioneer the rise of pop-gospel…
Like its male counterpoint, this anthology spotlights contributions from both famous stars (Mahalia Jackson, Marion Williams, Dorothy Love Coates, Sister Rosetta Tharpe) and obscure figures (Mary Johnson Davis, Jessie Mae Renfro, Lucy Smith, and Goldia Haynes, among others), presenting a hefty 31 selections. While some might quibble that celebrated stars Jackson and Williams get six tracks apiece, it's hard to argue with the greatness of what's presented by them. Others who give head-turning performances include Frances Steadman, Roberta Martin, and Clara Ward.
In 1938, jazz aficionado/promoter/producer John Hammond, Sr. had an idea for a visionary concert. This vision would take fruition as a presentation known as "From Spirituals to Swing," bringing together the connected history of African-American music running from gospel to blues to jazz.
Van Morrison's 2016 album Keep Me Singing included the hard blues track "Goin' Down to Bangor," a tune that directly foreshadowed Roll with the Punches, a set of five originals and ten covers drenched in Chicago-style blues. He also heavily engages in collaboration here with appearances by Jeff Beck, Chris Farlowe, Jason Rebello, Paul Jones, and Georgie Fame.
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.
Nascente's Beginner's Guide series has offered excellent primers on a wealth of neglected genres – salsa, tango, Indian filmi music, Arabian music, and many more – so it shouldn't come as a surprise that their three-disc volume of gospel music is a success as well. What may be surprising, though, is that its primary achievement isn't to resurrect a brace of hoary old chestnuts (many of which have already been reissued) but to shine a light on gospel's relatively recent past, which has suffered more than the classic gospel of the '40s, '50s, and '60s.