"What the Hey Were You Doing in Chicago?" Part 1

I went to interview the next subject of the documentary, Robert Darden, founder of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. Robert is a writer and professor of journalism at Baylor University, a deacon at his church, and a passionate gospel music enthusiast. I highly recommend his book, People Get Ready, for anyone interested in the history of gospel music.


What’s the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project about? This from the Baylor University web site: “The purpose of this project is to identify, acquire, preserve, record and catalogue the most at-risk music from the black gospel music tradition. This will primarily include 78s, 45s, LPs, and the various tape formats issued in the United States and abroad between the 1940s and the 1980s.”

This is gospel music’s golden age and there were many many recordings made by gospel artists famous and not. Many of these recordings were on small obscure labels that have long since disappeared, many are in the hands of record companies who may or may not be aware that they possess them and have little interest in re-releasing them, and others were pressed in small runs for sale to the congregation only. It’s difficult to quantify, but it is estimated that 75% of these recordings are unavailable–lost or in the vaults of conglomerates or collectors. But as more people hear about the BGMRP, more recordings show up at Darden’s doorstep, from individuals who have boxes of vinyl in their attics and from collectors who are willing to share.

To date, the BGMRP has digitized more than 6,000 sides. (A side can be a single song {a 45} or several songs {an LP}.)

That’s all well and good, but what is Robert Darden doing in A Life’s Work?

Here are the last three  paragraphs of  “How Sweet the Sound” by Michael Hoinski (The Texas Observer, November 16, 2007):

“I suspect there is a lot more to be found than we think,” says Robert Laughton, who along with Cedric Hayes has spent the last four decades compiling The Gospel Discography: 1943-1970, a 658-page compendium of gospel recordings from the era targeted by the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. “There are also new labels being discovered that we know nothing about.”

Darden seconds that emotion. Nothing in the first two boxes of stuff he got from a collector in Chicago was in the Laughton and Hayes book.

“I will die before we finish this project,” Darden says.

I’m very excited to include Robert in the documentary. His passion for his life’s work is present in his articulate speech, gestures, and actions. The possibility of including gospel music in the film thrills me beyond belief.

Thanks to Robert Darden, Mary Landon Darden, Deacon Reuben Burton, Rev. Dr. Stanley Keeble, Peter and Paula Schuler of University Quarters, the wonderful people at Captain’s Hard Time Restaurant, the employees and shoppers at Hyde Park Records. You all made this a most memorable trip.