Late Nite FDL: Rise, rise and rise…
So, as many of the frequent commenters here know, I am TRex’s twin brother. We were born five minutes apart, and we have been moving in different directions ever since. He does the classical music show on the local public radio station, I play drums in Music Hates You. He has cats, I have dogs. His idea of a dream vacation is to be raiding the stationers and book shops of London (with unlimited funds). Mine would be to make the "Motorcycle Diaries" trip through South America living on two bucks a day and getting by on my meager Spanish. I like to spend my free time working in the dirt and growing my own food. He prefers to watch me do this through a window, in the air conditioning, over a good book and a cup of coffee.
We do, however, have some common ground- we both love a good meal, swimming in the ocean and, more than just about anything, we love Gospel Music.
Gospel is not just church music- It was the soundtrack to the American Civil Rights Movement as well. It was faith that sustained the Freedom Riders, the Marchers to Selma, the billy-clubbed, the jailed, the tear-gassed and the dog-bitten. It was a belief in a higher purpose that gave these freedom fighters strength- the strength that comes from a belief in Justice and Protection Granted by a Higher Authority. Theirs was not a God who sought to cast people out of the church , or to kill the infidels , or to issue fatwas on foreign leaders. Theirs was a faith that God would carry His people to freedom.
I don’t remember exactly when I discovered a song by the Harmonizing Four, a black Gospel group from Richmond, Virginia. I do know that it changed my life. From the very first notes of Jimmy Jones’ rumbling bass voice, I was awestruck. Jones has a voice that could part the waters. Pharaoh’s Army never had a chance. When he sings "I Shall Not Be Moved" (see the above link), brother, you will believe him.
The first Harmonizing Four song I ever heard was "Motherless Child."
"Motherless Child" by The Harmonizing Four
Since then, I have combed flea markets and estate sales, dimly lit and dusty record stores, and the far reaches of the internet, hunting for records, more mp3s, more forgotten bootleg CDs… I found this song as a B-side to a 45 rpm single:
"Strange Man" by Dorothy Love Coates
In the darkest hours of the last five years, it was the Swan Silvertones who gave me hope that perhaps one day we’d come out of perdition. As I watched Katrina flood the streets of New Orleans I listened to "Trouble of the World" by Mahalia Jackson. When I lost Buddha, my best dog and companion for fifteen years, it was "Never Grow Old" sung by Aretha Franklin that got me through. This music is comfort for the soul, but it also reminds me that those who went before us were not afraid of a fight. No crooked lawman or Klansman or axe-handle wielding redneck was going to keep them from voting, from going to college, or from simply riding the bus with some dignity.
"Mary Don’t You Weep " by Shirley Caeser and the Swan Silvertones
"Trouble of the World" by Mahalia Jackson
"Never Grow Old" by Aretha Franklin (If you can listen to this and think of anyone you have lost, and not turn into a teary-eyed pile of mush, then you’re not human. I’m just saying.)
This is the music of survival. This is the music of southern, rural people who struggled against the law, the weather, pestilence and poverty to get a crop out of the fields, to stay out of the way of the Conservative Citizens Council, to put up enough food to survive the winter, and to lift their children up to a better life. Many of these men and women did the jobs that no one else would do: cleaning other people’s houses, picking other people’s crops, building someone else’s fine buildings and working in the mill, building other people’s cars. It was backbreaking work. And yet, Sunday morning, you could find them, no doubt weary and aching, dressed in their best clothes and in church.
"Leave Your Burdens There" by the Dixie Hummingbirds
That’s when they made this music. There’s not a trace of anger, self-pity or bitterness in it anywhere. They found the best in themselves, and they passed it forward to us.
"Motherless Child " by the Swan Silvertones (A different song than the "Motherless Child" by the Harmonizing Four.)
Sure, it can be said that this is conservative music. As Pete Seeger once said "I like to say I’m more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other."
As I watched Christy and Jane and Murray Waas, Joe Wilson and the hundreds of people who were in Vegas with them at the Plame Panel today, I thought… "Look at these wonderful people. Look at their strength. Listen to her dignity and charm as Christy speaks. Listen to Joe Wilson or Murray Waas, and tell me, who in our national debate now is on the side of justice?" (Consider Ann Coulter, this week, too, and tell me who is "Godless.") To struggle for justice is to be An American, in the best sense of the word.
"Uncloudy Day" by The Staple Singers
This is the music that inspired the greatest struggle for freedom and equality in America’s history. I hope that it inspires you, too.
"Amazing Grace" also by the Swan Sivertones
(a brief note: These songs are, unfortunately not complete, since I didn’t want to run afoul of the copyright police. I put as much up there as I thought was prudent.
I hope you enjoyed them.)