The Selah Jubilee Singers are regarded as one of the first early modern African American Gospel groups to bring their message and vocal harmonies into the popular secular mainstream. All of their most important early recordings were reissued in two volumes by the Document label in the 1990s. The primal sourcebook for the word ‘selah' is in the Hebrew bible where it is used regularly in the Psalms. It is somewhat similar to ‘amen' and can be translated roughly as ‘stop and listen' or ‘let those with eyes see, let those with ears hear'. ‘Selah' can also mean ‘forever' and sounds very like ‘sela', the Hebrew word for rock. In recent memory, the word ‘selah' has been adopted by the Rastafari, and has found its way into reggae speech patterns. The Selah Jubilee Singers were organized under that name in 1927 by Thermon Ruth (1914-2002), a disc jockey at radio station WOR in Brooklyn NY who chose its members from a church choir of which he himself was a member. The Selahs relocated with Ruth to Raleigh, North Carolina where he (and they) broadcast regularly over WPTF. Their first records appear to have been cut for Decca in April 1939. Why it took them twelve years to find their way into a recording studio is anybody's guess, especially given Ruth's media connections. What's certain is that by the spring of 1939 the Selahs were seasoned interpreters of the African American gospel tradition. The unit heard on Document's first volume consisted of tenor voices Thermon Ruth, John Ford and Nathaniel Townsley; bass singer J. B. Nelson and pianist Andrew Antley. Their harmonies are beautiful, the textures are warm and everyone is anchored by Nelson's bass tones. The song list includes Ruth's personal invocation "I Want Jesus to Walk Around My Bedside"; Thomas A. Dorsey's "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" and a strong moral stand against gambling with the title and refrain "Stop Playing Numbers and Pray".
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