Bob Marovich’s Top Ten All Time Gospel Recordings

Photo by Laurel Delaney

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, radio announcer, and journalist. Since 2001, he has hosted “Gospel Memories,” a weekly radio program featuring classic gospel on WLUW Chicago. He is currently at work on a book-length history of gospel music in Chicago, to be published in 2013, and is the editor of The Black Gospel Blog.

According to Bob, thanks to Ebay and several reissue labels, all of these recordings are available.

1. Every Day and Every Hour – Spirit of Memphis Quartet (King 4463 – 1951)

Wilmer “Little Ax” Broadnax’s ever-intensifying hard lead over sweet-singing harmony is transcendent, demonstrating the transition from jubilee to shout in quartet singing during that period. It also shows why Broadnax was one of the baddest singers on the gospel highway.

2. Everytime I Feel the Spirit – Dr. Charles G. Hayes & Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Choir (Savoy LP SGL 7076 – 1982)
Quintessential Chicago churchy gospel choir singing. Unparalleled. The Warriors, under the able direction of Allen Cathey, tears out the brake pedal and tosses it out the window on this spiritual. It was my first taste of gospel music and still my favorite all-time gospel recording.

3. He’ll Welcome Me – Soul Stirrers (Specialty 861 – 1953)
The longtime a cappella Soul Stirrers quartet tried out instrumental backing of piano and organ for the first time and it worked out just fine. Soul legend Sam Cooke trades leads with gospel legend Paul Foster on a joyous romp that demonstrated the Stirrers’ ability to remain fresh and relevant for a new generation of gospel enthusiasts.

4. I Tried – Gospel Pilgrims (Finch 110236 – 1971)
This Cincinnati-based quartet turns the hymn “When I’ve Done the Best I Can” into a soulful doo-wop. Deacon Howard Riley’s lead leaps into the stratosphere as the quartet provides him with airtight harmonic support. Sparkling. From the studios of the late John Marshall Finch.

5. My Rock – Swan Silvertones (Specialty 836 – 1952)
Chicagoan Baptist Sylvia Boddie’s gospel staple (also known by the title “I Call Jesus My Rock”) gets a rousing reading from the Swans, not unlike the Nightingale’s own version of this song. But when the Swans’ Rev. Crenshaw lets loose on the vamp, he gets the Holy Ghost. He’s unstoppable and transforms the song into a sanctified performance.

6. Open Our Eyes – Gospel Clefs (Savoy 4119 – 1958)
Leon Lumpkins’ hopeful ode to peace, harmony and an end to racism was relevant in 1958 and remains so today. Although covered by Earth, Wind and Fire and Jessy Dixon and the Chicago Community Choir, among others, the Gospel Clefs’ original is still the standard.

7. Precious Lord, Hold My Hand – Mahalia Jackson (Columbia CL 899 – 1956)
Although Mahalia Jackson sounded best on her pre-1954 discs for Apollo, this track is arguably the finest version of Dorsey’s gospel prayer ever recorded. Haunting and yet hopeful, with just the right amount of keyboard accompaniment, it’s got to be how Mr. Dorsey wanted his song to sound. And since Mahalia demonstrated Dorsey songs in the early 1940s, she would know.

8. Total Praise – Richard Smallwood with Vision (Verity, Adoration: Live in Atlanta – 1994)
A contemporary classic, melodic and penetrating. Richard Smallwood is a classicist who maintains the traditional church vibe in his songs. The conclusion of this popular gospel hymn evokes the tenderness of Brahms, the boldness of Wagner, and has brought the most macho of men to briny tears.

9. Trouble in My Way – Dixie Hummingbirds (Peacock 1705 – 1952)
Possibly the fastest this spiritual has ever been taken, and listening to it, you hear rock and roll’s genesis. Ira Tucker and Beachey Thompson trade leads as drums keep the beat and the quartet harmonizes a hypnotic “Father of Abraham” behind the vamp.

10. Walk Around Heaven All Day – Caravans (Vee Jay 945 – 1964)
Credited to the Caravans but it’s actually a solo for Cassietta George. She borrows riffs from “That Lucky Old Sun” to paint a picture of the hereafter, where “mama will be waiting, father too.” I want this played at my funeral.

Thanks, Bob, for taking the time to share your Top Ten, and your insights into each selection.

You can also find Bob Darden’s Top Ten Gospel Christmas Songs on this here humble little blog.

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