----- Original Message -----
From: "Matthew Barton" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
> >From today's New York Times--a familiar tune.
> OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
> Gospel's Got the Blues
> By ROBERT DARDEN
> Published: February 15, 2005
> Waco, Tex.
> AT the Grammy awards on Sunday, viewers saw the marriage of old-time
> and new: the classic artists Mavis Staples and the Blind Boys of Alabama
> performed a medley with a young musician, Kanye West, that included Mr.
> West's gospel-tinged hip-hop song, "Jesus Walks."
> Blessed with a rock-solid foundation, contemporary gospel is thriving. In
> the past decade, new releases have been selling copies in the millions - a
> major milestone in a musical genre that emerged in the 1930's, when the
> songwriter Thomas Dorsey set the words of Sunday morning to the music of
> Saturday night. But the early gospel may soon be lost forever. Although
> albums by the legendary Mahalia Jackson are easy to find on CD, of the
> thousands of tracks recorded by less known greats like Clara Ward, the
> Sensational Nightingales, the Roberta Martin Singers, Sallie Martin, the
> Georgia Peach and the Spirit of Memphis, only a few are available.
> Why is this music so difficult to find, or even hear, today? Although
> gospel labels still release classics, and reissue labels like Document
> Records and Collectables have repackaged some Golden Age music, these
> companies don't have the wide distribution of the major labels and mostly
> depend on mail and Internet orders. In fact, catalogs of early gospel
> labels are mostly owned by the large corporations that dominate the music
> industry. For the most part, these companies have released only a few
> classic albums on compact disc.
> For an unabashed fan like me, it's a painful situation. I realize that no
> corporation is going to put out albums just to please a few aficionados,
> but they may not realize that many people want to hear this music. Each
> time I do a radio interview and play a classic gospel song, the phone
> immediately light up. The callers need to discuss what this music has
> to them. They invariably ask where they can buy it and most of the time I
> have to tell them they can't.
> Classic gospel can experience the same success that major-label reissues
> jazz and blues have enjoyed in the last two decades. It was once difficult
> to find the jazz masters, but reissues of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker
> dozens of others have brought labels renewed sales, a new audience and
> critical acclaim. These reissues came about because of the aggressive
> lobbying by jazz lovers and the foresight of a few label executives. The
> same can happen with early gospel.
> Music historians should also get involved: major record labels can form
> alliances with archivists like the Smithsonian, Rounder Records and the
> Library of Congress. Each day, irreplaceable master tapes deteriorate, get
> lost, or are simply tossed out.
> It would be more than a cultural disaster to forever lose this music. It
> would be a sin.
> Robert Darden, an assistant professor of English at Baylor University, is
> the author of "People Get Ready! A New History of Black Gospel Music."
Ironically, the situation is both worse than Mr. Borden states...and better!
Most of the pre-1950 recordings were never on tape...but, of course, a lot
of the original masters are long since lost. Many of the manufacturers who
recorded "race" records are long-defunct, and their masters no longer
exist in any form (Paramount, Gennett, pre-Columbia Okeh, etc.). As well,
many of the masters for post-WWII records disappeared when the companies
died. This means the available "metal parts" are pretty well limited to
Victor/Bluebird, Columbia and subsidiaries, and Decca...and it is
questionable how complete their archives are!
However, the original 78's are being actively collected, and current
processing technology means that acceptable reissue recordings can be
produced. So far, the major labels have ignored independent reissues
of obscure material to which they own the rights, but for which
their reissue would be cost-negative. There may be some recordings
for which no copies are known...but to cite an old blues lyric,
"You can't miss what you never had!"
The problem is, though, that if current RIAA views inspire record
companies to take a closer look at reissues of material to which
they own copyright, we could lose access to virtually all of our
recorded past! Are there any labels besides Grey Gull that were not
eventually "eaten" by CBS-Sony, BMG (aren't they merged now?) and
whoever wound up with MCA?!
Steven C. Barr