“What the Hey Were You Doing in Chicago?” Part 4

Forgetting things, apparently. Such as a release from the person I went there to see. I hustled to get releases from everyone else, from the people in Captain’s Hard Time Restaurant, from the employees and shoppers at Hyde Park Records, and from the people Robert Darden interviewed. But I did not get one from Robert himself. I kept telling myself, “I’ll get it tomorrow.” And of course tomorrow came and I was back in NYC and without a signed release.

People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music by Robert Darden
People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music by Robert Darden

I also forgot to get Robert to sign a copy of his book, People Get Ready, which I brought with me from home.

Fortunately, the United States Post Office is still in business. I mailed them to him and he mailed them back.

His inscription:

To David Licata:

A craftsman w/ the soul of a poet! Thanks for making the BGMRP part of your vision.

Robert Darden

Psalm 66:1

I don’t know my Psalms, so I looked it up.

“Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth”

I can get behind that.

Little Red Dots

I have these stickers, they’re little red dots. They look like this:

Actual size!

When I capture a tape (that is, put the miniDV tape in a deck and transfer that digital information to one of my external hard drives so that it is accessible for editing), I cut a quarter of the dot and place it on the corner of the sleeve like this:

This tape contains a portion of the interview with Robert Darden, including a bit where he talks about Prince's gospel song, "The Cross."

This lets me know at a glance that I have captured the tape in its entirety. I have done this to 86  one-hour tapes.

All the red dots I have left are in that first image, seven and three-quarters. If I quarter them, that’s enough for 31 more hours of tape.

Will that be enough to finish this film? Will I need to get more red dots?

How Do You Find These People? Robert Darden

Robert Darden in Hyde Park Records, Chicago, IL

I’m not shy about telling people about the film and sometimes they will suggest a subject.  (I love it when their first response is a laugh followed by, “That sounds like me and my garage.” Really, I do, because that’s the point.) All of my friends know I’m making this film, so when they catch wind of someone or a project they think will work for this film, they tell me about it. That’s how I found out about Robert Darden and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

Roland Tec, good friend, brother in filmmaking, Pinkplot Productions head honcho, and brainiac behind the blog Extra Criticum, heard a story on NPR’s Fresh Air. He called and left a message. I listened to the archived show and salivated.

Robert Darden and other customers in Hyde Park Records.
Robert Darden and other customers in Hyde Park Records.

I always wanted to find a collector to include in the film, someone searching for their holy grail, and this lead pointed in that direction.  Though Robert wouldn’t call himself a collector or an archivist, he is actively searching for recordings known to be missing.

The thought of using gospel music in the film was exciting, and Robert and the music would bring religion into the film, and that, I thought, would be a nice counterpoint to the kinds and degrees of spirituality that the other three subjects displayed.

Some tips don’t amount to anything, others amount to a good pay off. With Roland’s tip I hit the jackpot. Thank you, Roland.

"What the Hey Were You Doing in Chicago?" Part 2

I went to meet and interview Robert Darden, founder of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. Though I had read about him, read his books and articles, heard him on NPR, exchanged e-mails with him, and spoke with him on the phone, you never really know if a subject is going to be right until you meet him or her face-to-face.

Wolfgang and I had dinner with Robert and his wife, Mary, the night we arrived, and after that dinner there was no question: he was perfect for the film. He was open, articulate, wise, funny, and passionate. He and Mary made themselves available to us even though they were on a tight schedule, and Robert invited us to tag along as he interviewed subjects for a book he’s writing about gospel music’s role in the civil rights movement. Initially I wanted to conduct two interviews and perhaps follow him around as he searched for some rare vinyl.

Chicago, Il. Wolfgang Held lines up a shot of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House.

What I got was two great interviews, a great scene of Robert perusing gospel records at Hyde Park Records (I loved this place, it’s very High Fidelity!), and footage of him interviewing two Chicago gospel performers for his book. We also shot b-roll exteriors of Robie House, a Frank Lloyd Wright residence that may be a nice transition if I’m going from Arcosanti (Soleri was Wright’s apprentice) to this Chicago footage or vice versa; the skyline from a beach on lake Michigan; those foot bridges over the Chicago River in downtown; and Cloud Gate, the Anish Kapoor sculpture in Millennium Park.

Nine hours of footage.

But that’s not all.  In Part 3 I’ll reveal my big score.

"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.