Although vocalists affiliated with Virginia's Hampton Institute are known to have made in-house phonograph cylinder recordings during the late 19th century, it wasn't until the summer of 1939 that the Hampton Institute Quartet cut their school's first commercially produced and distributed records. Reissued on Document some 60 years later, eight of the quartet's ten Musicraft sides stand as rock-solid examples of their finest work. At least one of these spirituals, "Reign, Massa Jesus, Reign," clearly dates back to slavery times. Tracks nine through 14 were recorded by an unaccompanied male vocal sextet for the Library of Congress in Hampton, VA during the years 1937-1942, and constitute a trove of precious old-time melodies including Stephen Foster's "Old Black Joe" and introspective versions of "Water Boy" and "Deep River." The unusual acoustic dimensions of these rare pressings lend a mysterious and even transcendental quality to the playback experience, with "Goin' Home" (based on the largo from Antonin Dvorák's Ninth Symphony) sounding particularly ethereal. Half of the Hampton Institute Quartet's Victor recordings made in April 1941 are reproduced here, rounding out this sampling from an extraordinary body of works deserving greater recognition. This volume in Document's extensive catalog of rare African-American gospel recordings concludes with examples by three little-known groups that were active in the 1940s. "Lead Me to the Rock," "Do You Want to Be a Follower of the Lord?," and "Children Go Where I Send You" were recorded for the Library of Congress in June 1941 in Seaford, DE by a capable unit known as the Harmony Four. "Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham" and "Wade in the Water" are credited to the somewhat more modern-sounding Richard Huey & His Sundown Singers. The final two entries in this collection are of socio-historic interest, as they were used in support of Henry Wallace, Progressive Party candidate for the presidency in 1948. "Henry Wallace Is the Man" is sung by the Royal Harmonaires, who successfully emulate the Golden Gate Quartet. As electoral propaganda it probably won a few more votes than "Wallace Fit the Battle of America," during which Richard Huey delivers an impassioned sermon describing the decadence of Wall Street, where "the Golden Rule is abandoned for the Rule of Gold." Years later, Duke Ellington would employ the old Joshua spiritual on his album My People as "King Fit the Battle of Birmingham." By then Alabama governor George Wallace had managed to link his surname with bigoted white supremacy rather than civil liberties.
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