I was able to speak to the man behind the Black History Collection: Soul of the Church DVD, Bruce Faulk, who assembled a treasure trove of gospel performances into this stirring and inspirational collection. It even includes some of the vintage commercials.
Tell me how this production came together.
This was a syndicated mid-60’s television series called “TV Gospel Time.” It was the idea of a Chicago advertising agency. Their idea, which was rare at the time, was to go from town to town and record local gospel choirs and feature singers with the hosts being some of the best-known gospel singers of the time. The premise was unique. There were many many many many shows and we have just about all of them. This first release has sixteen of them and we were able with bonus material to include six songs from “Mahalia Jackson Sings.” It is an amazing array of the icons of the golden age of gospel. In many cases these are the only visual recordings of these artists. It’s just totally amazing. Just on this release we have James Cleveland, Sally Martin, the Blind Boys of Mississippi, Ernestine Washington, the Dixie Hummingbirds, Alex Bradford, Clouds of Joy. The Highway QC’s a group from Chicago was founded by two people you don’t think of as gospel — Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls. One of the celebrities is Ruth Brown. You don’t think of her as gospel; you think of her as a pop and R&B singer. But she’s here. This is an amazing look at Americana and gospel as an American form of music. It gives me chill bumps! Gospel means good news and this is certainly good news.
What a treasure trove! And it is history as well as music, culture, and worship.
It’s amazing that these survive; it’s amazing that they were recorded to begin with. Even though the show was sponsored by, recorded for, and broadcast to the African-American market, it crossed over to the Caucasian market. It was broadcast during church hour and it opened the music up to an entire new demographic.
Where did these come from and how did you come to them?
My background is in children’s programming. I worked in television animation and produced some well known seasonal pieces. I met a gentleman at CBS, a controller there, and to save room they were throwing away some old shows and he started buying. He now has the largest privately help film library in the world. These are kinescopes, camera pointed at the camera as it was broadcast live. Even though we’ve digitally enhanced it, it is still kinescope.
Growing up, a lot of these songs, I immediately wanted to see how they were handled by these singers. How did Marie Knight treat “Jesus Lifted Me?” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” or Tommy Browns doing “Keep Trusting.” I wanted to know how they did with the songs that were my all-time favorites and they were just amazing.
It’s like any other type of music — but jazz and gospel are American music. Gospel was the call and response put to music for an era when so many did not read. Over the years it’s been changed, augmented, tampered with, but you still find that line almost like a jazz riff that goes right through it. These recordings are like those early Sun recordings with Elvis. To see them work, to see their enthusiasm and spirit is something to behold.
Is there one performance that really is special to you?
Ernestine Washington doing “Down by the Riverside” just tears me up! She is the quintessential queen of gospel. The six songs from Mahalia Jackson, especially “Walk On” and “Just as I Am.” She was President Kennedy’s favorite singer and performed at his inauguration. She was Dr. Martin Luther King’s favorite singer.
We are working on a separate Mahalia Jackson release and we have enough for several more collections.
To order, click on Black History Collection: Soul of the Church