march 2011

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks

manningExploring gospel's blue highways
Bishop Manning and the Manning Family
Big Legal Mess Records/Fat Possum Records (2010)
Available at

On "If You Miss Me," Bishop Dready Manning delivers his life testimony while firing off sparkling rockabilly licks from his electric guitar. Between riffs, he quips, "I used to do this all night long for the devil/I used to have white and colored shaking a leg." But, he concludes, he is saved now and plays only for the Lord.

‘Joy That I Have,’ Bishop Dready Manning and family, from the Drinkhouse to Churchouse DVD

The converted Bishop Manning and the Manning Family made many recordings in the 1970s for labels such as Memorial and Hoyt Sullvan's Su-Ann. They even released their own discs on homemade labels such as Peatock and Nashbrand, blatant but tongue-in-cheek ripoffs of then-popular labels Peacock and Nashboro. Most of the recordings have slipped into undeserved obscurity.

Coming to the rescue, John Glassburner and Bruce Watson have lovingly gathered the family's history and early recorded output from their own archives, from the Manning's collection, and from those of fellow gospel collectors and historians. The result is the 28-track CD Converted Mind.

One could argue that Manning's lyricism and performance style make him one of the last guitar evangelists. On their records and presumably in live performance, Manning, his wife Marie and their children ruminated about what was wrong with the world. Nothing escaped their scope: troubled race relations, two-faced church folk, wayfaring preachers, loose ways among men and women, and even uncomely dress and hairstyles. In fact, the group's "What the People Gonna Do," reprised three times on the set with as many titles and from as many labels, is the ensemble's quintessential response to life's problems.

Bishop Dready Manning, ‘Too Close to Heaven’

Their response is to receive the Lord and be saved. Bishop learned that lesson well: once a blues musician and a lover of whiskey and clubs, Manning gave it all to the Lord after being miraculously cured of an affliction that baffled his doctors. Using music henceforward as a force for good, Manning organized his wife Marie and young children into a singing group, based in their hometown of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.

The first track on the collection, "Manning Family Theme Song," is the group's calling card. They sing out their telephone number and address..."and if you write us, we will come."

Converted Mind features Bishop Manning's barrelhouse rockabilly guitar and bluesy harmonica playing. His chugging harp is especially notable on "The Gospel Train," where he channels Little Walter in propelling the train down the track. "The Jealous Men and the Jealous Women" contains echoes of 1920s sermon recordings. Overall, the musicianship and genuine singing give the collection what the liner notes call a "down home sincerity."

While Bishop Manning sings lead on the majority of the tracks, his wife Marie's hard-charging vocals on a few of them are among the CD's most interesting selections, especially "I Believe I'll Run On," one of the two bonus tracks.

‘What Was I Doing When the Saints of God Found Me,’ Bishop Dready Manning and his family at Durham’s Warehouse Blues, July 27, 2007

Gospel researcher and author Alan Young, who wrote, among other volumes, the biography of the Pilgrim Jubilees, composed the fascinating and well illustrated liner notes, which detail the life and times of a man who wanted to make sure others didn't make the same mistakes he had.

During a time when gospel music is moving along speedily on the interstate, it is soul-satisfying to hear collections like Converted Mind explore the genre's well-traveled blue highways.

Picks: "The Gospel Train," "If You Miss Me," "I Believe I'll Run On."


The Mississippi Mass Choir at work

mass...the Choir's crown jewel
Mississippi Mass Choir (2011)
Malaco Records
Available at

Time will tell but ...Then Sings My Soul could well go down in history as the crown jewel in the Mississippi Mass Choir's estimable catalog of gospel gems.

This two-disc set was recorded in June, 2009 at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. The 200-plus member multicultural choir, which has been "serving God through song" since 1988, is as strong as ever. Its lead singers more than hold their own against the thunderous wall of vocal power--because when Mississippi Mass crescendos, they can drown out a jet plane.

After the compulsory praise opener, the program never stops to take a breath. There is scant entr'acte commentary as flatfooted ballads alternate with traditional-style church-wreckers. High-tempo workouts include the strutting "I Love to Praise Him," led by the beloved Mosie Burks; the holy dancing "I Will Survive," and a Warriors-esque "Don't Stop Praying." "Lord, You're the Landlord" is the kind of congregational song that Babbie Mason might sing; here, Jesus is a trustworthy landlord who will come to your rescue when "there's a leak in your building."

The gospel ballads are just as memorable as the uptempo pieces. Their lyrics tug at the heart and speak plainly to people in need of comfort and hope. Benjamin Cone III gives an effective reading to the current single, "God Made Me;" the fiery shouter Marva McKinley is equally striking on "We've Come to Praise the Lord," and Luther Barnes, quartet star and one of the album's producers, tears it up on "He'll Carry You."

In fact, the traditional-flavored "He'll Carry You," with its confident reminder that God will see you through all troubles, was clearly a favorite at the recording session, and is equal in mood and tone to "God Made Me." It could very easily be a single.

It is difficult to choose a favorite from among the eighteen tracks on this double album.  Most all are well written, well rendered and well produced. ...Then Sings My Song is how a gospel project ought to sound.

Picks: "God Made Me," "He'll Carry You," "Don't Stop Praying."


karenSing hymnbook needed
Karen Washington and the New Singing Stars
Dream Reality Records (2010)
Available at

On Singing the Hymns, Karen Washington and the New Singing Stars render timeless hymns, revival songs and gospels such as "Amazing Grace," "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross," and "Nothing But the Blood." The CD's ten selections are so lodged in the subconscious of Christians throughout the world that you'll find yourself singing along with no need of a hymnbook.

What the female quartet does is give the ten classics a quartet feel and beat with modern-day traditional quartet accompaniment of guitar, bass, drums and electric keyboards. Gratefully, the instrumentation complements, but does not interfere with, the harmonies.

Evoking quartets such as the Gospel Keynotes and Pilgrim Jubilees, Washington delivers a sermonette on "I Need Thee," where, in a sign of the times, the encounter with a troubled soul takes place at the local gym.

"Glory to His Name" is the album's high point, a mid-tempo piece on which the group's harmony is particularly tight. Here and there on Singing the Hymns, producer Eric Sharper blends his voice with the female quartet, giving the ensemble a mixed group timbre within the basic quartet framework.

Karen Washington is a board member of the South Georgia Chapter of the American Gospel Quartet Convention and the AGQC Chapter in Brunswick, Georgia. She and the New Singing Stars have been nominated for three 2011 Rhythm of Gospel Awards: Quartet CD of the Year (for Singing the Hymns), Female Quartet Group of the Year and Traditional Female Vocalist of the Year. For more information, visit

Picks: "I Need Thee," "Glory to His Name."


walkerthe soundtrack of an historic old landmark
Pierre Walker and Various Artists
Admatha Records (2009)
Available at CD Universe

In 2002, Pierre Walker, Rev. Clay Evans' organist and St. Sabina's associate minister of music, paid tribute to the family's Chicago roots on Rev. Clay Evans Presents Project: Sanctified.

Two years later, Pierre recorded a second Project: Sanctified, this time as a loving acknowledgment of the church he grew up in, Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Philadelphia, where the pastor is his father, Rev. Charles Walker.

Nineteenth Street has served the City of Brotherly Love for more than a century.  In the past forty years alone, its pulpit has welcomed such honored guests as Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr., Dr. Howard Thurman, Bishop O.T. Jones and Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth.

The mix of music on the 2004 Project: Sanctified, released in 2009, is steeped in the African American church tradition. Eschewing the now-standard practice of combining P&W, contemporary, traditional and urban on a gospel release, Project: Sanctified instead offers a soundtrack of an historic Old Landmark.

Opening with the somber strains of a snippet of Rev. Walker's Requiem for Brother Martin, a classical tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the album also features deacon-led congregational singing ("Hold to God's Unchanging Hand"), nineteenth-century hymnody ("I Need Thee"), traditional gospel ("Just to Behold His Face") and a couple of choir-led pulse-racers, including "Grace," J.C. White's hit for the Institutional Radio Choir.

The album's track order follows the standard order of service, with devotionals; a sermon song with Rev. Walker, who also provides the lesson; an altar call; and the benediction.

The Walker Family is all-in: Pierre is joined by his talented vocalist brother Jason and the angel of Nineteenth Street, their father, Rev. Charles. The project pays homage to the family's Chicago heritage, with Windy City-based artists such as the Brown Sisters, Gus Lacy and Joey Woolfalk assisting with the recording.  

The project's high point is Pierre's stunning rendition of Lucie Campbell's "Just to Behold His Face." In Pierre's voice one hears a measure of Donald Gay's muscular jazz phrasing as the dynamics build to such high tension that only a praise break provides release.

Gospel music today has a polished, musically complex sensibility in keeping with a world captivated by iPods and enraptured by multi-media praise services and megachurch celebrations. Project: Sanctified reminds us that in the midst of musical evolution, thousands of Old Landmarks in cities large and small sound just like Nineteenth Street. They embrace the future without abandoning the rich, textured intensity of the songs that carried their forebears through.

Picks: "Grace," "Just to Behold His Face."


marovichBob Marovich is a gospel music historian, radio announcer, and author. In its seventh season, Bob's "Gospel Memories" program of vintage black gospel music and artist interviews airs live first Sundays from 3:00 to 7:30 a.m. on Chicago's WLUW 88.7 FM, and streams live at Snippets of recent broadcasts can be heard at  Bob is also editor of The Black Gospel Blog:


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024