Archive for the ‘black women and gospel music’ Category

There’s A Place in the Sun

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

My mother was a big Stevie Wonder fan back in the day. She’d work in the bakery of Rich’s Department store in Atlanta all week long to buy us children shoes and to buy herself a new 45rpm record. Whatever records were stacked on the record player waiting to be played when she got home from baking and decorating cakes all day long had to be rearranged to accommodate whatever Stevie Wonder hit she held in her purse.  Wonder’s ‘66 hits “A Place in the Sun” and “Blowing in the Wind” ( both composed by Bob Dylan) were my mother’s favorites. (Stevie himself was only 16 years old when he recorded the two songs.) Waking to the sound of these Wonders’ hits blasting from the record player was a sure sign to us children that we’d be spending that Saturday cleaning the house at Mama’s orders from top to bottom.

Here’s to you Mama here on Throwback Friday. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get it.

Like a long lonely stream
I keep runnin’ towards a dream
Movin’ on, movin’ on
Like a branch on a tree
I keep reachin’ to be free
Movin’ on, movin’ on.

‘Cause there’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for ev’ryone
Where my poor restless heart’s gotta run.
There’s a place in the sun
And before my life is done
Got to find me a place in the sun.

Like an old dusty road
I get weary from the load.
Movin’ on, movin’ on
Like this tired troubled earth
I’ve been rollin’ since my birth
Movin’ on, movin’ on

‘Cause there’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for ev’ryone
Where my poor restless heart’s gotta run.
There’s a place in the sun
And before my life is done
Got to find me a place in the sun.

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.

I Woke Up With A Headache This Morning

Friday, September 5th, 2008

I woke up with a head-ache this morning, something I rarely have. It might be a hang-over from all that’s gone on these past two weeks. Then again, it could be from forcing myself to listen to John McCain’s speech last night. My friend, that was hard. Which is why I eventually left my chair and went into the kitchen and got out my knife and started to chop. Something. Anything. Thanks to John McCain there’s a dinner meal in my refrigerator this morning.

One word about John McCain’s speech last night: Eeewww. I know. I know. I know. With all the degrees that I have I should be able to be more precise. How’s this? Unremarkable. (Again: I have a headache this morning.) Here’s what I know: If McCain-Palin win in November, we’re in trouble. Trouble, did you hear me? Women and black people (and brown and yellow people, too) are in trouble. Trouble. I don’t know y’all, I may find myself packing up the family and moving to Trinidad to live with my mother-in-law until the two of them leave office.

Did I mention that I have headache this morning?

After these last two weeks of conventions and waking up every morning to screaming headlines, and after that unusually long blog post I wrote yesterday about Sarah Palin and the Evangelical vote, I thought I’d just open up the blog today and let folks jump in and talk about whatever they want.

Here are a few topics being discussed over on one of my other favorite blogs which I thought last night I might tackle here on my blog today.

“The hypocrisy over teenage pregnancy.”
“Can a Mom with five kids and a demanding job do both well?”
“Where are the feminists and why aren’t they standing up for Palin?”
“Calling All Community Organizers”

But that was before I woke up with a headache.

Of course, there’s the Kwame Kilpatrick story which deserves mention but which isn’t something normally that would come up on this blog since this is a blog about women and their screw-ups. But look next week for a post from me on why powerful men (and not so powerful ones too) can’t keep their zippers shut. (Did I mention that I woke up with a head-ache this morning?) Seriously. I do plan to write about whether electing women in political office will cut down on our waking up to stories of cheating, adulterous politicians.

BTW, if you have suggestions on topics you’d like covered here on the blog, drop me a line.

Of course, there is always the topic “Where is God in all of this?” that some of my loyal readers are probably anxious to read. Gulp. Um. God and I haven’t spoken much to each other…this week. But check back with me after this First Sunday.

Did I mention that I woke up with a terrible headache this morning?

I’m sending out a special invitation to my LURKERS to drop a line here on the blog today. Conversate! (Lurker: Cyber Slang for someone who regularly reads newsgroup, BBS, or mailing list discussions, but rarely participates in them.)

Finally, I think I’ll close the week out with a song.

If I could sing, I would sing this song everytime I stood to preach. Forget whatever selection the choir just sang. This one makes me yield and get out of God’s way. Donnie McClurkin’s version of this song is the one I have on my Ipod, but this young sister (Faith Evans, is that her name youngins ?) does a beautiful job with it too.

Have a blessed weekend everyone.

Still Holdin’ On

Friday, June 27th, 2008


This is a Repost

Some years back while co-writing with CeCe Winans her autobiography On A Positive Note I got to spend lots of time with CeCe and her musical family and learned a lot about the cruel business of making and selling music in America. I learned how much more cruel the business can be to black women performers. Because I’m a scholar I couldn’t be content with just writing about Winan’s journey as a singer, as though she emerged ex nihilo without influence from other women singers. I had to learn as much as I could about the history of the industry, the history of blacks in the business, and in particular the rise and fall of black women gospel singers. A whole shelf of books in my study is filled with the biographies of the many women in the gospel and pop musical industry whom I stayed up reading about while working with Winans on her book: from Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday on one end, to Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson, Shirley Caesar, and Tramaine Hawkins on the other end.

I close out this Friday with a video clip of my all time favorite gospel singer from back in the day, Dorothy Love Coates and her Gospel Harmonettes singing “I’m Holding On To My Faith.” 

Young sisters. Take note. This is what you call Sanctified, Fire-Baptized, Holy Ghost-filled, Old School singing. Back when you could still make out every word the singer was saying.

Feel the goosebumps rise as you listen to Ms. Love Coates’ powerful singing and the Harmonettes backing her up with a grace of their own. This is old style gospel singing back when all a singer had to rely on was her voice and her conviction. Watching this video makes me wanna shout and throw my make-believe Sunday hat across the sanctuary. Ms. Love Coates is not just singing, the woman is preaching and telling a story of what it takes to hold on to all that’s dear and precious to you in the midst of persecution and temptation.

Here’s paying tribute to all those who know what it means to work, sing your heart out, and hold on to your faith, all under nearly impossible circumstances.