Singing in the Spirit: African-American Sacred Quartets in New York City

Singing in the Spirit: African-American Sacred Quartets in New York City

Singing in the Spirit: African-American Sacred Quartets in New York City

Singing in the Spirit: African-American Sacred Quartets in New York City

Excerpt

In a small furniture shop in the heart of Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, five African-American men stand in a tight semi- circle, singing into a single microphone. Charlie Storey, the store proprietor and leader of the group, mops his brow and looks crossly at Billy Walker, who is struggling to find his baritone part. "You're not making that turn right," he chides Walker. "Listen, it's right here: Lord, Lord Jesus, can I just have this talk with you. Now hit it again, and don't run up on the tenor part!" Guitarist Jerome "Pee Wee" Ellis strums a chord and the group resumes the chorus. Four voices join in close harmony, and this time Walker holds his part on the final chord change. As the last notes fade, bass singer Sam "Brown" Copney jumps back from the mike and bellows "There you go, Bro, now we got the blend!" Storey nods his head in approval. Walker laughs sheepishly and turns an inquiring glance toward Storey. "Think we can do that one on Saturday night?" "God willing," responds Storey. "If the Spirit is moving, we just might try it."

The singers break for cold fried chicken and soft drinks. The air in the furniture shop is hot and close, and the group has been working on this new arrangement for well over an hour, hoping to have it ready for Saturday night's program. But Charlie Storey isn't worried. "I've been in the singing business a long time, and the Lord will guide me when we take the floor," he assures me in his thick Georgian drawl. Indeed, Storey has been in the "singing business" for some time. A native of Camake, Georgia, Storey migrated to Brooklyn in 1928 where his father, a Holiness preacher, set up a church in the family's small house at 711 Gates Avenue. Soon after their arrival Storey and his sisters formed a vocal "spiritual" group and began singing in neighborhood churches. His searing lead tenor brought . . .

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