Old-time gospel music; there is something about this fervent, passionate style of praise that brings listeners to their feet, and raises voices to heaven. Recapturing the “golden age” of gospel music, Black History Collection – Soul of the Church is a collection of original footage of TV Gospel Time, a half-hour show that aired on Sunday mornings from 1962-1965.
For those of us who weren’t around to enjoy the broadcasts when they were originally delivered, Soul of the Church is a gem in the rough, presenting both the talents of some of the largest names in gospel music alongside of local church choirs and smaller groups. In all honesty, the local choirs and performers are really just as captivating and moving as the big names, and in some cases are more enjoyable.
However, those looking for modern-day film quality are sure to be disappointed. This two-disc collection has been transferred from the show’s original Kinescope recordings, and as a result they are filled with minor flaws (scratches, flecks etc.), lighting that is at times off, and questionable resolution. At times the black-and-white format makes it difficult to distinguish the faces of the performers from dark-colored backgrounds and clothing surrounding them. An interesting quirk is the inclusion of authentic sponsors messages for products like skin lightening cream, and hair care products. However, if you’re willing to dig for treasure, there’s plenty to be found here.
There are eight episodes and a sampling of short songs from Mahalia Jackson presented on each disc. With a broad and eclectic assortment of performances to be found in the collection, it’s difficult to summarize the breadth of songs performed and the wealth of talent presented. Some names you may be familiar with are: the Blind Boys of Mississippi, Clouds of Joy, Mahalia Jackson, Ernestine Washington, the Barrett Sisters, and many more.
The performances span a wide variety of gospel flavors. The Three Professors of the Gospel perform in their harmony-based trio with a classic, rhythmic, near-barbershop style, and the Reverend James Cleveland performs with a rich, soul-filled voice and is backed by a trio of female vocalists (familiar back-up to any conversant with music from the ‘50s and ‘60s). There are even some more avant-garde performances included that push the boundaries of what is typically considered gospel, heading into music that is distinctly modern in sound.
The disc navigation is fairly simple, with each disc displaying a menu of all of the episodes contained on it, each numbered along with the name of the show’s host. After selecting an episode, viewers can then choose specific songs to view, or by clicking on the “Introduction” can then watch the entire episode from start to finish. It is difficult to leave the sub-menu for each episode if you don’t want to watch through in its entirety. Asking for the menu only brings you back to the sub-menu for the episode; in order to return to the main menu, you need to watch through the last portion of the episode before it will kick you back into the episode selection menu.
Whether or not you’re an aficionado of vintage gospel music, Soul of the Church is an enjoyable collection. Production issues aside, this is a great collection to listen to in the background while glancing up from time to time to see the choirs bouncing and praising. It truly is inspiring, vibrant, praise from the hearts of a people deeply invested in hope and salvation.