Hitting the High, Sweet Notes of Gospel Music Series: BLACK HISTORY MONTH

Article excerpt

HOW SWEET THE SOUND:

The Golden Age of Gospel

Text by Horace Clarence Boyer

Photographs by Lloyd Yearwood

Elliott & Clark Publishing

272 pp., $26.95

Just before Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, Mahalia Jackson sang a song. It was "gospel," the inspiring music that prepared the congregation for the minister's message in America's black churches, and rang out to influence popular music - jazz, blues, country, rock, soul, rap - down to this day.

Jackson was gospel's superstar to the world. But a host of other singers, composers, and instrumentalists have shone in the gospel universe.

"How Sweet the Sound" by Horace Clarence Boyer is the latest word on them, accompanied by sensitive photography, from a scholar whose own experience as a gospel singer (one of the Boyer Brothers) shows in every detail of insider analysis and praise.

Gospel still thrives in some churches, in broadcasts, awards, and festivals on both sides of the Atlantic, and lately in nightclub "gospel brunches." Gospel Explosion XIII took place in Nashville Feb. 15-17. Gospel plays a part in a new movie, "Once Upon a Time ... When We Were Colored," and in a New Haven revival of James Baldwin's play, "The Amen Corner."

Last year, an icon was remembered in "You Send Me: From Gospel to Pop, The Life and Times of Sam Cooke." The Smithsonian Institution has a long-term project on gospel, including the 1993 publication of "We'll Understand It Better By and By," to which Boyer contributed essays on six pioneering gospel composers.

But the golden age of gospel, according to Boyer, was 1945-65, roughly the same as in Anthony Heilbut's more journalistic, "The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Time. …