Monestry schmonestry, you ignorant jealous-hearted backbiters
I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research lately on the emergence and diversification of southern gospel and of the many things I’ve stumbled across, this excerpt from Lee Roy Abernathy’s 1948 how-to book on the quartet bidness is worth reprinting here:
Should gospel quartets charge? They most certainly should, and they really ought to charge more than they do. They have spent a lifetime learning to sing for you … Does your ministry preach for nothing? … does anyone do anything for nothing … Does the painter paint for nothing? … does anyone do anything for nothing? … No! Neither should the Gospel Quartet man. If you are on of the those tightfisted cheap, chronic gripers that wouldn’t give a dime to see ANYTHING … you shouldn’t be allowed to go to church, or to have singers in your community. The general public has in recent years become educated to the fact that GOSPEL QUARTETS ARE THE REASON FOR THEIR SINGING BEING THE BEST IT HAS EVER BEEN. Only a few ignorant, jealous-hearted backbiters are keeping Gospel music back. However, it is going forward now at the most terrific rate it has in years.
In Charles Wolf, “Gospel Goes Uptown: White Gospel Music, 1945-1955.” Folk Music and Modern Sound. U of Mississippi P, 1982. 97-98.
I love the first-take, no-edit quality to all this, the spittle-spewing sputter of his doubleovered outrage: “tightfisted” AND “cheap,” unless we missed the point, the haranguing taunt of that recurring question, “does anyone do anything for nothing?” And to imagine, this was what he was like when gospel music was “going forward at the most terrific rate it has in years.” But mostly I like this for putting the lie to the good-ole-days misperception that gospel music is getting more worldly and has lost some original and pure focus that it enjoyed in its heyday. If there was a heyday, ever, it was Abernathy’s 40s and 50s, and/but as almost every good historian of southern gospel will tell you, there were always from the first multiple strands of ordinary human self-interest and other threads of less-than-sacred motivation weaved into gospel music.
But the pull of the good-ole-days thinking is strong. Even Charles Wolfe, the dean of Opry historians and general soothsayer about music in the south, falls victim to the blandishments of imagining that “a music that was once an expression of religious belief” became “a business” in the 1950s. Except that it always had a concern with business from the first. Southern gospel emerged as a cross-denominational phenomenon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries not because (or at least not solely because) this wonderful music had the power to unite people who would otherwise form a new denomination over how hard the church pews should be, but because, as Edwards Ayers notes, songbook “publishers [like the now-sainted J.D. Vaughn] strove to please a diverse audience” in an effort to sell more books, thus “they combined songs with divergent theological emphases.” The lesson here - or least one of many - is that beauty and spiritual force survive and thrive amongst the tares and thorns of everyday human affairs. That and, I really would like to have hung out with Lee Roy Abernathy for a while.Email this Post