Various Artists

Preachers and Congregations, Vol. 1: 1927-1938

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The earliest recordings on Document's Preachers and Congregations, Vol.1 collection date from the year 1927. These include selections by Reverend W.M. Clark & Sisters which were released on the Paramount and Black Patti labels, and by Rev. James Beard, who is believed to have been associated with the Biddleville Quintette of Charlotte, North Carolina, a fine religious vocal group whose complete works have been reissued by Document. Beard's emotionally charged delivery sounds at times a lot like the traditional field holler, and often his drawn-out cries will end with utterances so constricted as to suggest a man whose devotion is pushing him to the limits of verbal communication. His "Justice Condemned" ends with a full chorus of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Reverends Johnny Blakey and T.N.T. Burton were recorded in Chicago in 1927 and 1928. Both conveyed strong currents that were sure to transform everyone within hearing distance. This was the explosive significance of the "T.N.T." reference, and Blakey in turn was billed by Paramount as the "Son of Thunder" for similar reasons. Document has reissued more of Blakey's records on Memphis Gospel 1927-1929 and he shows up on JSP's four-CD compilation Spreading the Word, as well as Columbia's box set Roots ‘n' Blues: The Retrospective 1925-1950. Rev. Jim Beal of Coldwater, Mississippi came to Chicago to visit family and was "discovered" preaching on the street there. His records were cut for the Brunswick label in August 1929. Black Billy Sunday, also known as the Rev. Dr. J. Gordon McPherson, made his records for Paramount in Grafton, Wisconsin in January 1931. Another African-American preacher who used the name Black Billy Sunday was one Calvin P. Dixon, whose works were reissued by Document on Preachers and Congregations, Vol.3: 1925-1928. Both men opted for or were assigned their billing by recording session supervisors in imitation of ex-National League outfielder and super-evangelist William Ashley "Billy" Sunday, who became one of the best-known preachers of his generation. In November 1938, Rev. Benny Campbell recorded for Vocalion in Columbia, South Carolina. A convincing orator, he could be very persuasive, saying "look at love" as if it had materialized in front of him and his responsive congregation. Campbell would record again for the Apollo label in 1947 and 1950.

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