I’ve been to a variety of different churches (Catholic, Baptist, lily white Christian) in my life and most of these “houses of the Lord” have no redemptive qualities. However, there is one forgiving quality about the black church and that is the music. Sure, after you’ve been damned to hell a few times and lost a whole paycheck in the collection plate -- there is still that music.
Church music of today is much different than the churches my late grandfather described in the South (although my granddaddy preferred the sin of blues music!) or even some of the churches I attended in Philadelphia as I child.
See, religion, even black religion, has turned into such a corporation that even the vocals have been capitalized. I’m not saying there is no good singing in the churches today, but it’s not much compared to the days pre the gospel charts or especially a time when the church was a place of refuge.
In the ninth grade I had a choir class in Philadelphia. Previously, I was used to the choir classes of Washington State where we learned about notes, musical theory and mouthing our vowels. Baby, I didn’t hear one word about the fundamentals of music during choir class in Philly. Those folks, especially the girls, sang their souls to the edge at a good 10AM. Each morning “sanging” turned into a competition on who could out soul the other—and sometimes it might turn into a fight!
I can recall a big light-skinned girl who had a voice like Jennifer Holliday and would roar through any gospel song given to her. When one of the other girls wasn’t up to par the teacher would point to her and say, “Sing girl!” The girls around her were evil, kind of like a hood version of Mean Girls, saying, “She think she all that—trying to out sing everybody!” Munching on a Butterscotch Krimpet Tastykake for breakfast, another girl would add, "As fat as she is she should be able to sing!" Sistah girls curling her hair with a curling iron plugged in a wall outlet (oh yes, baby -- the girls brought a curling iron to school), “Yeah, chile—singing about Jesus and she pregnant! She lucky she pregnant or I'd kick her ass!” It was a cackle…
We performed all over the city at churches, middle schools and senior citizen homes. Every time the choir killed it and I still remember the chills I would get when we sang Walt Whitman’s “Perfect Praise” or the Negro spiritual “Hush (Somebody’s Calling My Name)”. The sopranos and altos would rip it up, with the big light-skinned girl always on lead, and the boys—all closeted butch queens, belt it out on tenor and bass. I was more of the Janet Jackson of the choir, I was too shy to sing so I just lip-synched with the other boys—them butch queens were competitive with those notes and would read me if I went off key!
More than anything, I would enjoy the reaction from the audience, the drama in the lead’s mannerisms and the impossible to ignore soul. It was something else…
Check out a great clip from The Emotions singing “Peace Be Still”. I love when the girl “catches the spirit”. I don't care where you are from - you can't tell me you don't feel this!
PS. Don't you wish the afro would come back for the ladies?
Labels: Religion, STORYTELLING
Posted by Clay ::
1:28 AM ::