Archive for the ‘gospel music’ Category

Mrs. Mattie Moss Clark (1925-1994)

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Recovering and reclaiming women’s contributions to history is what I relish doing. Whether it’s women in the Bible, women who participated in the civil rights movement, great women in jazz, or women in the church I never get enough of hearing (and retelling) stories of women who defied the odds and made a way out of now way.

I’m happy to close this week out by bringing to light here on the blog another woman readers probably never heard about or know little about. Her name is Mattie Moss Clark (1925-1994) . (”Mrs. Mattie Moss Clark” is how everyone referred to her back then.) As preeminent choir director of the COGIC Convention, Mattie Moss Clark was the First Lady of Gospel Choir Music back in the 60s and 70s. The late James Cleveland is better known as a gospel legend from that period; but make no mistake about it: Mattie Moss Clark was also on the scene traveling the country and changing the direction of black church music. Mattie Moss Clark  is credited for creating the three-part harmony (separating vocal parts into soprano, alto, tenor) in choirs,  a technique which remains prevalent today.

Growing up COGIC and singing in the youth and young adult choir there was always lots of buzz in the church about Mrs. Mattie Moss Clark. Friends in the choir who took the yearly pilgrimmage to Memphis for the COGIC Convocation meeting (I could never afford to go) went especially for the infamous Convocation Midnight Musicals where Mrs. Clark introduced new music and new songs to the church, where singers and choirs battled for Mrs. Moss’ approval.  In the COGIC church  where only men can be bishops and pastors, Mattie Moss Clark saw to it that the church’s  music department became her domain and ran it like a woman who had to prove that she was as a gifted and anointed as the best of them.

Not only was Mattie Moss Clark a choir director non pareil, the woman, it seems, was also a force of nature. Folks from my church were always coming back from Convocation with stories of something Mattie Moss Clark said or did at the Convocation. Rumors have it that during rehearsals Mrs. Clark would throw sheet music or a shoe in displeasure at a soloist who failed to execute her solo in the proper way, or she would throw a hat or hymnal in joyous ecstasy at one who not only got it right but got it perfect.

Of course, some say that Mattie Moss Clark’s greatest contribution to gospel music is the gift of her singing daughters, The Clark Sisters,  who took their mother’s lessons and music to greater heights and then passed them down to their own children (J. Moss, Kiki Sheard). That’s probably true. But today here on this blog Mrs. Mattie Moss Clark is remembered in her own right for her own talents as a church musician, arranger, composer, music teacher, choir director, and minister of music. She brings to heaven experience on how to stand up to the male angel Gabriel and win the respect and attention of heaven’s choir as a choir director par excellent.

A Simple Prayer

Monday, July 7th, 2008

As many of you know from reading this blog I am an “old school” type, someone who knows all the words to the great songs written before the 80s. I know next to nothing about contemporary music and singers.

But the choir at my church sang a song yesterday that stayed in my heart for the rest of the day. I don’t recall hearing the song before yesterday ( although I’m told it’s been around for some time). Perhaps I’ve heard it before (for as much time as I spend in churches), but I heard it differently on yesterday.  

A simple song. A simple melody. A simple prayer. It’s called ”Jesus, Jesus, Jesus (A Katrina Song).”  The song was evidently written on behalf of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and for anyone who knows what it is to experience profound grief and sadness.

I woke up to discover this morning that the man who wrote the song, the one singing on this YouTube clip, the Rev. Timothy Wright was involved in a terrible automobile accident this weekend that took the life of his wife and grandson. As our church was singing one of his songs on yesterday, little did we know that Rev. Wright was struggling for his own life. The Wright family was driving home from a church conference when the accident occurred. Rumors are that while his wife and grandson perished Rev. Wright survived, but lost both of his legs in the accident.

In the old African American slave and church tradition where preaching was more than just preaching, but singing and story telling, Rev. Timothy Wright models for his audience how the old saints prayed and sang their way through sorrow and heartache. They came together and shared stories and shared in carry one another’s burdens.

A simple song. A simple melody. A simple prayer. A song for when you are at a lost for words. For those times in one’s life when all you know to do is to call on the name of Jesus.

For the man whose song lifted my heart to heaven on yesterday and took me back to the old days, I pray today a simple prayer for him and for everyone who knows this week something about grief and grieving.

How I Got Over

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Wanted to close the week out with a shout of my own. So I went looking for a music video.

You can never go wrong with Mahalia Jackson.

I chose the video of Mahalia Jackson singing “How I Got Over” because despite its horribly poor quality Mahalia Jackson’s powerful presence and powerful talent as a singer shine through regardless.  This is a favorite because you can witness the transformation in Mahalia Jackson as she moves along in the song.  Did I say “transformation”? Change that. Watch the performance closely and you can almost pinpoint the moment when the Spirit…the Anointing…heck, the Holy Ghost (as we say in the Pentecostal church) falls and Mahalia Jackson “The Queen of Gospel” loses herself in the song.

Back in the day when black people placed little stock in finding happiness and justice in this life and looked forward to a place called Heaven where a displaced people could meet their Maker and find rest for their weary souls songs like “How I Got Over,” “I’m Going Up Yonder,” “When The Saints Go Marching In,” and “The Unclouded Day” elicited shouts and provoked benchwalking during church services.

Mildred Falls, Jackson’s longtime accompanist, is at the piano providing Jackson with sure footing each step of the way. The fact that the audience is mixed probably explains why Jackson tries to remain in control for as long as she does. But, as you can see for yourself, the shouts and expressions of the few blacks in the audience who recognize the Spirit when it falls is all Mahalia Jackson needs to let it rip. The mood of the song changes, in my opinion, somewhere around the four minute mark. But it will take another full minute before Jackson ceases to sing with her eyes close. Eventually she looks up at her audience, both seeing them and not seeing them.  The nervousness is gone.  Mahalia Jackson moves from singing and performing to testifying and praising the Lord.  The singer merges with the artist who gives way to the Gift.

When the Spirit is done, Mildred Falls’ consummate accompaniment on the piano provides Mahalia Jackson with the musical footing she needs to find her way back to herself and to bring the song to a close.

After a bittersweet week of dialogue here on Something Within, let’s end with Mahalia Jackson’s powerful rendition of  “How I Got Over,” (which, by the way, was written by another legendary gospel singer, Clara Ward).

(Pssst. Don’t let the video’s spotty poor quality here and there make you give up and click away. It’s worth sticking with to the end. We have take the footage the way we find it when we’re trying to experience some of these classic performances from the past.)