THE TOUCH OF GOD’S HAND
By the Bluegrass Five
(Dewell Pitts, Patty P.P. Hitchcock, Ronnie Hitchcock)
Recorded March 12, 2005, Butler Sound Studio, Carrollton, Georgia
J.N. Baxter-lead vocal and guitar; Onie Baxter-tenor vocal and guitar; Wesley Clackum-baritone vocal and mandolin; Jeremy Moses-banjo; Jane Baxter-vocals and bass
Born in 1934 and raised on farms in Carroll and Haralson Counties, J.N. Baxter enjoyed horse training and riding while Iona “Onie” Newman focused her attention on school. Both became interested inmusic through listening to the radio and attending church, where they heared gospel music at a young age. Onie’s siblings performed on the local music scene; her brother Leon played guitar with renowned local banjo player Uncle John Patterson and her sisters sang as the Steadman Junior Quartet. Onie taught herself how to play the guitar and then taught J.N. after thye married in 1954. Nine years later, the Baxters organized the Bluegrass Five, which has performed throughout the Southeast for over forty years. In 2001, J.N. and Onie Baxter were inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.
“The Touch of God’s Hand” is a popular bluegrass gospel song that J.N. and Onie first heared from a record. The song appealed to them because of the uplifting message it conveys. It also allows them to showcase their strong harmonies, honed through years of church and gospel singing. Gospel songs such as this one are an important part of the regional bluegrass tradition.
Mr. Freeland is not new to the West Georgia black gospel community. In 1957, when African American gospel quartets had become quite popular across the Southeast, Freeland joined the Golden Bells, a group from Carrollton, and he performed with them for eighteen years. Following his time with the Golden Bells, he sang for eleven years with the National Travelers, from Marietta, Georgia. In the 1960s, Freeland became well known as a music promoter who marketed gospel quartets locally and across the country. He also worked as a broadcaster at local radio stations WLBB in Carrollton, Georgia, and WKNG in Tallapoosa, Georgia.
In this track, Freeland welcomes participants to the Simpson Sisters Anniversary Singing, a two-day event which celebrated the group’s 29th anniversary singing together in February, 2005. His greeting, “You Got a Request,” set the tone for the evening’s performances. After energizing the crowd, Freeland, as master of ceremonies, established the structure for the program. Those interested in singing were to sign up at the front door when they arrive, and the master of ceremonies would call each group to perform in that order. Their performances could include only two songs, the “A” and “B” selections that Freeland describes. If a member of the audience makes a request to a group, that song should be one of the two songs the ensemble performs; he warns that groups should not try to sneak in a third song.
The Piney Grove Baptist Church Choir, from Carrollton, sings traditional and contemporary gospel songs. In this track, they perform a contemporary song, written by John P. Kee, a nationally known gospel singer, in a traditional style. Kee formed the New Life Community Choir in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the mid-1980s, and he has produced several very successful albums that gained him notoriety in the black gospel community. “I Believe I’ll Praise” is included in his 2003 CD “The Power of Worship”. Performing here at the “No Music Singing,” the choir is accompanied by clapping, stomping, and tambourines to accentuate the lively rhythms of this hymn.
A member of the choir heard this song on the radio and brought it to the group to perform. Choir members believe that this song is popular because the words are easy for listeners to follow, a defining characteristic of black gospel music.
HEAVEN’S REALLY GONNA SHINE
By The United Shape Note Singers
(Albert E. Brumley)
Affiliated Music Enterprises, Inc.
Recorded April 30, 2005, Mt. Olivet Missionary Baptist Church, Villa Rica, Georgia
Various vocalists led by Ray Backers.
The United Shape Note Singers are the only African American shape note singing group in western Georgia. Shape note singin has a long history in the rural South, where singing schools taught people the tone associated with each shaped note rather than requiring students to read the music. The United Shape Note Singers carry suitcases full of shape note book sto their practices, drawing upon the extensive songbook collections produced by the music publishing houses throughout the twentieth century.
“Heaven’s Really Gonna Shine” comes from “Mull’s Singing Convention Number 7, Shape Notes for Four-Part Harmonies.” The song is one of over 800 written by the well known shape note and gospel music composer and producer Albert Brumley. In their rendition, the United Shape Note Singers warm up by singing thet notes of the song first, before singing the actual words, another older tradition in shape note singing. Their performance demonstrates a distinctive African American style of shape note singing with syncopation and clapping, which differs from white performances wherein singers perform the song exactly as it is written.
Ray Backers, one of the group’s leaders, has sought to preserve shape note singing in his community. Born in Yorkville, Georgia, in 1930, Backers and his family often traveled from house to house to sing songs, and his father played piano and organ. He first heard this featured selection at Mount Olivet Baptist Church as a young child and it has become one of his favorite songs. A 1956 recording of this song by a white gospel quartet, the Sewell Singers, appears on “Everybody’s Tuned to the Radio,” a CD released by the Center for Public History in 2003.
Maumina and Pam were a female gospel duo who performed on the Carrollton radio station WLBB in the 1960s. Live radio programs by local gospel groups remained popular on WLBB from the late 1940s through the 1990s. This track comes from a recording of one of their radio shows. Little more is known about this group, which is likely representative of the many local but less-known performers who found their way onto regional radio stations in the South in the decades after World War II. “Where the Soul Never Dies” has been a very popular song in Southern and bluegrass gospel for m any years, popularized earlier in the twentieth century through shape-note hymn books.
JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE
By the Dixie Sounds
Recorded March 2006, Butler Studios, Carrollton, Georgia
Mac Chochran-vocals and banjo; Ezra Cook-vocals and mandolin; Bobby Joe Driver-lead vocals and rhythm guitar; James Hite-bass
About four years ago, Providence Baptist Church members Bobby Joe Driver and Mac Cochran decided to form a singing group with their friend Ezra Cook. Bass player James Hite, a former member of the Hite family (also featured on this CD), rounds out the group. The Dixie Sounds sing in a Southern Gospel style, but replace the traditional piano accompaniment with bluegrass instruments. Their music reflects a popular local fusion of these two genres.
Their first public performance began on a humorous note when their preacher introduced them as the Dixie Chicks. After that event, word spread quickly about the Dixie Sounds, and they now perform at churches, assisted-care homes, and other venues in the region. “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” is still a very poular hymn with deep roots in this region.
I’M JUST A NOBODY
By Thomas ‘Bubba’ Powell
(Douglas Williams, Leonard Williams, Melvin Williams)
Recorded February 13, 2005, Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Roopville, Georgia
Thomas ‘Bubba’ Powell-vocals
Thomas ‘Bubba’ Powell draws upon a modern gospel song to share his personal beliefs about live and his religious convictions. Born in Carrollton in 1936, Powell learned how to sing from his mother, who raised him on gospel songs. Thomas made his singing debut at age six at the First Baptist Church, an African-American congregation in Carrollton. Other church singers and popular artists such as Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and Shirley Caesar influenced his singing style. In 1964 “Bubba the Ball Killer” joined the baseball team Atlanta Angels, where he played as an outfielder before returning to Carrollton to work at West Georgia College, now the University of West Georgia.
Powell began performing “I’m Just a Nobody,” one of his favorite songs, after hearing it on the radio. He changed the lyrics of this 2005 release, written and performed by the Williams Brothers, a popular gospel group, to reflect his own background. Powell adds “Atlanta” to the first line, deletes the second verse entirely, and adds a third verse in which he refers to his own humble beginnings—“born in the country, raised on the farm, with no money”—similar to those of other African Americans of his generation. Throughout the performance, the audience joins in, offering affirmations and joining him on the chorus.
The Sewell Singers featured employees from the Sewell Manufacturing Company plants in Bremen and Temple, Georgia. Pioneers in the apparel industry in the South, the Sewell family established a “Religious Emphasis Program” which promoted church attendance, incorporated chapels into each plant, and developed relationships between the company and area churches. The Sewell Singers performed at both company and community events. They sang at the company’s monthly “church day,” where a visiting preacher would deliver a sermon. The Singers also sang on WLBB, and the company sponsored a program for them on a Bremen radio station.
This track features the Sewell Singers performing a familiar hymn. The song leader calls out the hymn number, 110, as one might do in a church service. Their strong harmonies illustrate the shape note tradition in which many of them were raised, including Onie Baxter (also on this CD in the Bluegrass Five) and Hugh McGraw. Born 1931 in Centralhatchee, Georgia, McGraw began singing with the Sewell Singers after he accepted his first paying job at the Sewell Manufacturing Company. The National Endowment for the Arts recognized McGraw as a National Heritage Fellow for his work to keep the Sacred Harp shape notes tradition alive in western Georgia. He has spent fifty-five years performing, writing, and teaching music and has written nine songs. You can hear an example of the shape-note tradition from the Sacred Harp songbook on “Set Your Fields on Fire, Volume 1.”
JESUS ON THE MAINLINE
By The Simpson Sisters
Recorded February 13, 2005, Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Roopville, Georgia
Vera Simpson Williams-vocals; Christene Simpson Brewer-vocals; Sybil Simpson Person-vocals; Carolyn Jones-vocals
Three Simpson sisters and a family friend, Carolyn Jones, joined together thirty years ago to create this gospel ensemble. All four women grew up on farms in Georgia, where they enjoyed spending time with their families and listening to stories of their parents’ childhoods. They learned to sing from their families: the Simpson daughters from their father Romine, and Carolyn from her mother and four sisters as they sat around the fireplace. The church, where they learned new songs and practiced their singing, has also played an important role in their lives. The Simpson Sisters draw upon their extensive repertoire of church music and popular gospel recordings when selecting songs to perform.
In this track, the Simpson Sisters sing an a cappella rendition of the popular gospel song “Jesus on the Mainline” to open their 2005 anniversary, and the audience joins in by singing the chours and clapping to the r hythm. The Simpson Sisters believe that this song sends an important message to those who pray to God, telling them that any time one prays to God, He will always be there: “We won’t get a busy signal, or we won’t be switched over on call waiting.” This song has a long history in the black community and gained popularity during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
This powerful spiritual still holds strong appeal in the African American community in Western Georgia. Many choirs, such as this one, sing this song for their congregations during Black History Month to remind them of their heritage. Performing at the “No Music Singing,” this choir performs a cappella, accompanied only by clapping, in a traditional call-and-response style of singing in which the leader sings a line and the group repeats it. Spirituals such as “Roll, Jordan, Roll” provided hope for enslaved Africans. Even though they faced trials and tribulations in their earthly life, they could look forward to eternal salvation in Heaven.
DOWN TO THE JORDAN RIVER TO PRAY
By The Velvetones
Recorded ca. late 1940s or 1950s, WLBB studio, Carrollton, Georgia
Cliff Vines-vocals; Clarence Vines-vocals; Joe Wheeler Daniel-vocals; Marilyn Dean Overholt-vocals and piano
The Velvetones provide a local example of the gospel quartets that became popular in the South after World War II. Clarence and Cliff Vines grew up on a Carroll County farm where their father, a sharecropper, grew cotton. Their great grandfather Gillespie was an excellent fiddle player, and the boys always looked forward to his visits so they could hear him play. Joined by two neighbors, the brothers began singing on Carrollton radio station WLBB in the late 1940s. They did not have a name, so the members asked their listeners for ideas and adopted one of the suggestions.
In selecting songs for their repertoire, the Velvetones chose lyrics that resonated with their religious beliefs. They may have heard this selction, “Down to the River to the Pray,” from the Friendly Four Quartet, a regionally popular group who popularized the song in the late 1940s.
WALKING SIDE BY SIDE
By Harold McWhorter
Recorded 2000, Lost Gold Records, Inc.
Harold McWhorter-vocals, harpsichord, and electric piano; Tony Migliore-piano; Don Tweedy-organ and flute; Margie Cates-violin; Marcy Cates-violin; Bobbe Seymour-steel guitar; Jack Eubanks-rhythm guitar; Zeke Sheppard-harmonica; Henry Strzeleki-bass; Willie Ackerman-drums; Lea Jane Berinati-vocals; Janie Frieke-vocals; Duane West-vocals; Tom Brannon-vocals
A native of Tallapoosa, Georgia, Harold McWhorter represents a contemporary style of Southern Gospel music that has gained national appeal. Before becoming a full-time musician in 1976, McWhorter worked in public schools for sixteen years as a coach, administrator, and teacher and served as the music director of the Tallapoosa First United Methodist Church. Since going professional, he has performed at concerts, banquets, revivals, and camp meetings throughout the southern states. McWhorter has written 400 songs and produced nine albums. His music has become popular across the country but particularly in Atlanta, where one of his recordings remained in the top twenty in Atlanta on WSB Radio’s Hit Parade for fourteen consecutive weeks.
“Walking Side By Side,” an original composition, features contemporary instrumentation, but one can still hear the song’s notes in the more traditional gospel of a century ago. The song gained notoriety when it became the background music for the documentary “Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul.”
SATAN TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF OF ME
By The Long Sisters
Recorded Spring 2005, Butler Sound Studio, Carrollton, Georgia
Cora Lee Boykin-vocals; Ophelia Whatley-vocals; Vernice Parham-vocals; Veronica Groce-vocals; Joycleen Long-vocals; Louise Daniel-vocals; Stanley Kendrix-bass; Bobbie Harris-lead guitar; Joe Brown-drums
The Long Sisters illustrate a tradition of family gospel groups popular in African American communities of the Georgia Piedmont. The six sisters, all self-proclaimed tomboys raised in Carroll County, have relied on gospel music throughout their lives. Their mother taught them songs she learned on the radio while she was at work. They accompanied the songs by beating pots, pans, and washtubs with spoons and by scrubbing washboards. The Long Sisters celebrated their 31st anniversary singing together in January 2007.
The sisters heard “Satan Take Your Hands Off of Me” on the radio and added it to their repertoire, writing that the lyrics touched their hearts and stayed in their minds. They believe in the uplifiting abilities of their faith and of gospel music, both of which have helped them overcome obstacles and provided strength during difficult times. The Long Sisters adapt the lyrics and music to fit their own singing style. Several musicians from the Willing Workers, another family gospel ensemble, provide the musical background in this studio recording.
GOD IS WONDERFUL
By The Byrd Family
Recorded in 2000, Holy Nations Records, Douglasville, Georgia
Adrian Byrd-vocals, drums, bass guitar, and keyboard; Faye Byrd-vocals; Alan Byrd-vocals and keyboard; Benny Byrd-vocals; Mikeal Grier-drums; Tony Sanders-drums
The Byrd family has been performing gospel music in Carroll County for thirty-five years. Benny Byrd grew up in Carroll County during the 1930s in a Christian family surrounded by gospel music. As a young boy, he sang gospel songs with his mother and some of his siblings in a group called the Byrd Brothers. Benny and Faye Byrd began singing as a duet in the 1970s, soon after they married. When their children joined the group, they called themselves the Byrd Family. The group has written many original songs, such as this one, and has produced several CDs. They perform at gospel concerts and other events throughout the region.
This family ensemble illustrates a modern black gospel sound, accompanied by drums, keyboard, and electric guitars. Adrian Byrd wrote this selection to express his feelings about God and to share his life experiences. Through their music, they hope to influence the lives of others, especially young people.
Born in Carroll County in 1926 and 1929 respectively, Newt Holmes and Louise Hulvey met while singing in a country band called the Melody Boys and Girls. Soon after they married in 1944, Newt felt called to become a minister in the Church of God, and he and Louise began a life-long commitment to ministry through gospel music. In the late 1940s, they performed as members of the Friendly Four Quartet on local radio station WLBB and at schools and churches throughout Georgia and Alabama. The pair began performing as the gospel duo “Newt and Louise” in 1952. Their daughters, Helen and Yvonne, joined the group—then renamed the Holmes Family—and they continued to perform and record until Newt passed away in 1998.
The Holmes family built their repertoire from selections they saw in gospel song books or heard from other groups or churches. They also wrote their own songs, believing that the Lord gave them the thoughts to transform into songs. Louise believes that gospel music is a source of happiness that can be felt “in your heart and soul.”
The Holmes family first heard “There’ll Be Joy” at a church performance by Rabe Perkins and his group in 1956. They enjoyed the lyrics, which “tell of the joy you can have in your heart.” This track includes Newt’s piano accompaniment, typical of mid-twentieth century gospel groups, but also adds a more contemporary feel with drums, steel guitar, and bass guitar.
By the Gospelettes
(Traditional, arranged by the Gospelettes)
Recorded March 10, 2006, Friendship Baptist Church
Norvis Beasley Dunson-vocals; Jacqueline Beasley Dobbs-vocals; Mary Beasley Dedrick-vocals
Comprised of the three Beasley sisters, the Gospelettes provide an excellent example of the gospel family ensembles popular in communities of western Georgia. Norvis and Jacqueline were born in Dayton, Ohio, and Mary in Bowdon, Georgia. The family settled in Carroll County where their mother and father worked hard to provide food and shelter for their children. Their parents encouraged them to get an education and finish high school and to center their lives on their Christian beliefs.
The sisters became interested in music from their grandmother, who played the piano, and from their mother, who sang in an a cappella gospel group. As children, they enjoyed singing and playing the piano and participating in hootenannys on Saturday night. All joined their church choir at a young age.
The Gospelettes compiled this Spiritual Medley from old African-American spirituals they heard their mother’s singing group perform in the early 1960s. These songs have meaning for the sisters because their mother still wants them to sing them when they visit her. The medley includes “Ain’t Gonna Lay My ‘Ligion Down,” “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” “Praying in the Land Will Soon be Over,” and “Steal Away.” These spirituals clearly have double meanings, according to Norvis. Not only did the songs provide hope of freedom in death, but also earthly freedom. For example, songs such as “Steal Away” were used as signals for slaves on the Underground Railroad.
The Gospelettes organized the “No Music Singing,” where they performed these old-time spirituals, to preserve the traditional styles of a capella performance. Here, they sing with powerful harmonies, accompanied only by a tambourine towards the end of the medley.
Another locally popular family-based gospel singing group, the Almon Family attends Friendship Baptist Church in Heard County. Naomi Amon wrote this song about fifteen years ago when she decided that the family needed a theme song. The group sings it at church and before every performance. In this a cappella track, recorded at the “No Music Singing,” clapping hands, stomping feet, and shaking tambourines provide a lively, syncopated rhythm to the song, and the audience joins in with its affirming responses.
GOD IS GOOD
By The Gospelettes
Recorded February 2005, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Roopville, Georgia
Norvis Beasley Dunson-vocals; Jacqueline Beasley Dobbs-vocals; Mary Beasley Dedrick-vocals
This song may sound familiar because it is a more traditional-sounding version of a song performed earlier on the album by The Byrd Family that they call “God is Wonderful.” Adrian Byrd arranged their version of the song which is a fine example of how such a piece might evolve within a community.
The Gospelettes are a group who perform both traditional songs as well as more recent songs like this one in a traditional style without the accompaniment of instruments. Norvis Dunson of the Gospelettes remembers hearing this song from a national artist over a decade ago. Her sisters then took the song and adapted it so that it sounds like a much older song. Even though this is a recent composition, you can hear the older style that the Gospelettes have incorporated into the song. This song is an excellent example of how the community adopts and adapts songs. Enjoy both selections of it as well as the creativity and personality that the two groups put into their different versions.
WHERE COULD I GO BUT TO THE LORD
By Alton Stitcher & Elizabeth Cooper
(J.B. Coats) Bridge Building Music
Home recording ca. 1960, Carrollton, Georgia
Alton Stitcher-vocals and guitar; Elizabeth Cooper-vocals
Born in 1916 in Villa Rica, Georgia, Alton Stitcher grew up in a sharecropping family, but his parents worked in the textile or hosiery mills when times were hard. When Alton turned sixteen, he began to work in the hosiery mills, a career that would last for forty years. While his parents were not musical, several of his relatives sang and played instruments. Oftentimes, the family would sing hymns and folk songs accompanied by instruments such as a pump organ or harmonica. At the age of seventeen, Alton learned to play the guitar, and he and his brother Arlin soon began to sing as the Stitcher brothers on local radio stations and in music venues.
Stitcher began performing on Carrollton radio station WLBB in the late 1940s, often accompanied by a female vocalist. In the early 1960s, he performed duets on Marshall and Pearl Hannah’s weekly radio program with Elizabeth Cooper, who began singing gospel sings on WLBB in the late 1940s when she was a young girl. The duet featured in this track showcases their strong harmonies accompanied only by Alton’s guitar. Popularized in shape note books, this song has been recorded by artists from Elvis Presley to Emmylou Harris.
Stitcher is featured on his own CD entitled “I Hear a Sweet Voice Calling,” produced by the Center for Public History’s Regional Music Project in 2003. He gained greater regional recognition for his work in the last few years of his life and was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004. Stitcher passed away in December 2006.
HAVE A LITTLE TALK WITH JESUS
By the Akers Trio
(Cleavant Derricks) Songs of Universal, Inc
Home recording ca. 1960, Bowdon, Georgia
Eugene Akers-vocals and mandolin; Faye Nell Akers Marshall-vocals and guitar; Rayford Akers-vocals and guitar
The Akers children grew up around music in Carroll County. Renowned banjo player Uncle John Patterson was a neighbor, and they enjoyed listening to him play. When Faye Nell and Rayford began to sing and play the guitar, Eugene taught himself to play mandolin. After Rayford returned from serving in World War II, the three siblings began signing live on WLBB as the “Radio Homefolks.” They later changed their name to the “Akers Trio” and performed through the 1960s. Although both Eugene and Rayford have passed away, Faye Akers Marshall remains involved in music and recently produced her own album of original gospel songs.
“Just a Little Talk With Jesus,” written by African-American gospel composer Cleavant Derricks, was one of many songs disseminated in the early years of the twentieth century through popular gospel and hymn books. The Akers Trio performs it with a bluegrass twist, featuring Eugene’s strong mandolin picking.
MY MOTHER’S BIBLE
By The Allen Quartet
(M.B. Williams) New Spring Publishing, Inc.
Recorded ca. 1920s
James Allen-vocals; Hubert Calvin Allen-vocals; William Luther Allen-vocals; Basil Saxon-organ; Tal Saxon-vocals
This track by the Allen Quartet from Haralson County, one of the earliest known recordings of gospel music from the West Georgia region, showcases the gospel quartet tradition so popular in the South during the 1920s. The genre, new at the time, closely identified with the South became known simply as “Southern Gospel.” Traveling quartets, radio programs, and growing number of published song books helped to popularize the new southern gospel songs throughout the Southeast. The song “My Mother’s Bible” references a theme of motherhood familiar in many of these early gospel songs. In typical fashion, only a piano accompanies the quartet.
LORD, I WANT TO GO HOME
By The Hite Family
(Grace Bowers Morrisett)
Edith Hite-vocals and rhythm guitar; Joyce Hite-vocals and piano; Janice-lead vocals; James Ray-drums; Jerry Hite-tenor vocals; James Hite-vocals and bass guitar
The Hite family demonstrates a style of southern gospel music popular in the 1960s Georgia Piedmont, featuring vocal harmonies accompanied by piano. The Hite Family was an intergenerational family gospel ensemble composed of grandfather James Ray, his daughter Edith Hite, and her four children. Edith began singing at a young age, and she encouraged her children to begin singing, some as early as age six. The Hite family performed around west and north Georgia in the 1960s. They produced their first album, from which this track is taken, in 1968, the same year that Edith passed away. The group stopped performing after Edith’s death.
This track features a song popular in the local gospel scene in the 1960s. The family adds more modern instrumentation, including drums, and electric guitars, to the traditional piano accompaniment.