The Mississippi Gospel Explosion
Feat. Mississippi Mass Choir and others
7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at Municipal Auditorium
For tickets, call 255-9600
During the golden age of gospel music, record labels routinely staged multi-artist shows on weekends. These packages traveled from city to city, with rosters that combined quartets, vocalists, instrumentalists, and occasionally even evangelists. Labels like Specialty, Savoy, and Nashboro often recorded these concerts, then used the albums to promote appearances in other cities by the performers. These “gospel trains” were the forerunner to latter-day promotions staged by such companies as Atlantic, Motown, and Stax/Volt.
Nashville promoter Eric Paige, the head of Surebet Productions, hopes to rekindle interest in classic gospel packages. Paige, in conjunction with radio station WNSG-1240 AM, is presenting “The Mississippi Gospel Explosion” Jan. 26 at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. The show features arguably the nation’s most popular choral group, The Mississippi Mass Choir, plus vintage spiritual performers Lee Williams and the Spiritual QCs, The Williams Brothers, and The Delta Hummingbirds.
“I see this production as the beginning of a campaign to bring more positive gospel programs to Nashville,” Paige says. “I’ve been a big gospel fan for a long time, and the tradition of quartets and choirs is something many younger people haven’t really had a chance to hear. The Mississippi Mass Choir is a contemporary group all gospel fans know about, but these other groups are part of a great tradition. I think this show may really help start a trend here.”
Lee Williams and the Spiritual QCs perform in the “hard” gospel style. Their tunes emphasize stirring interaction, with varying degrees of sermonizing and dashing leads. The Delta Hummingbirds and the Williams Brothers are equally influenced by old-school harmonizing, although the Williams Brothers have dabbled in more contemporary material and production modes in recent years. The Mississippi Mass Choir represent the current dominant trend in gospel. They’re a huge choral ensemble whose 100-plus voices punctuate and power arrangements. However, they place such a premium on ensemble presentation that some traditionalists are dismayed by the absence of the virtuoso lead vocalists and pinpoint harmonizing that characterized both jubilee and quartet gospel.
Damon King, currently the morning host for WNSG, says the show’s importance is twofold for Nashville gospel fans. “One thing that we hope this show will demonstrate is that there’s an audience in Nashville for something besides R&B and hip-hop,” he says. “We’ve wanted to see more gospel shows come in here, and when Eric got in touch with us, we saw this as an opportunity to expand the market for live gospel shows. He’s trying to do something positive, and also increase the awareness and knowledge of old-school gospel among our audience.
“The second thing is that it’s part of a growing resurgence of interest in traditional gospel. Our latest ratings are showing a good increase, and I think that right now people are starting to take a look at the older styles in all music, especially gospel.”
WNSG, which added King to its staff nearly two years ago, also recently recruited legendary gospel announcer Clarence Kilcrease, formerly of the late, lamented WVOL-AM. King’s roots in Nashville gospel date back to his years with Fisk’s WFSK-88.1 FM, while Kilcrease boasts more than 30 years’ involvement with gospel as an announcer, talent scout, and occasional promoter.
Paige, who was also involved with the Shirley Caesar/Yolanda Adams concert last September, says Surebet Productions is interested in doing other ventures besides gospel. “We’re looking at several other avenues in promotion and entertainment,” he says. “We’re negotiating right now with some major names in comedy, and we want to do some big comedy concerts. We’re also thinking about other music, and also more big gospel shows like this one.”
For now, the Jan. 26 show will be a reminder of the old days for anyone who grew up seeing revues touting the likes of The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Fantastic Violinaires, Rev. Cleophus Robinson, the Swan Silvertones, and others. It’s a chance to get maximum inspiration and entertainment value for your money.
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