How Sweet It Was: Sights and Sounds of Gospel's Golden Age

Paul Harvey

NPR this morning featured a new CD/DVD collection put together by the outstanding gospel music scholar and producer Anthony Heilbut: How Sweet It Was: The Sights and Sounds of Gospel Golden's Age. A brief description from amazon:

A best of the best compilation covering a span of over 40 years. Compiled by Gospel music expert Anthony Heilbut, this exciting multi-facted package offers great film of Gospel icons as well as many all-time classic music tracks. The 26 track CD covers the period of the 1940s through the 1960s and features many all time greats such as: Mahalia Jackson, Rosetta Tharpe, Marion Williams, Swan Silvertones, Clara Ward, Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Soul Stirrers, Dixie Hummingbirds and much more including 9 previusly unissued performances. The DVD, also 26 tracks, features a comparable all-star lineup (filmed in the early 1960s) including: James Cleveland, Alex Bradford, Rosetta Tharpe, Marion Williams, Soul Stirrers, Sensational Nightingales and many more. A 32-page booklet includes biographical notes, a Gospel music history overview (both written by Anthony Heilbut) and many rare period photos.

The first of three reviews (presently) from amazon gives a thorough description of the contents of the set. HEre's the first paragraph:

In perhaps his most diverse gospel compilation to date, producer and gospel scholar Anthony Heilbut presents a satisfying panorama of the Golden Age of Gospel with this CD/DVD/Booklet package including some of the most passionate music America ever produced. Though the window of what is considered Black gospel's "Golden Age" is small, an all-too-brief fifteen years, the various soloists, groups and quartets peopling its story are large in number and broad in style. How Sweet It Was has the best-loved gospel Divas: Clara Ward, Marion Williams, Mahalia Jackson, Dorothy Love Coates, Rosetta Tharpe; the quartets, from the polished jubilee inspirations of Ira Tucker and the Dixie Hummingbirds to the hard, unapologetic squalling of Archie Brownlee and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. Female quartet is also here in great form with excellent recordings by three of the idiom's greatest: the Famous Davis Sisters, Dorothy Love Coates & the Original Gospel Harmonettes, and Albertina Walker & the Caravans. In addition, the CD features noteworthy recordings by more obscure vocalists like Professor J. Earl Hines, Lois Russell and The Famous Blue Jay Singers. Though all of the recordings included are worthy of place in any gospel collection worth its name, there are of course several standouts unavailable or hard-to-find elsewhere that make obtaining one's own copy of How Sweet It Was not simply desirable but genuinely requisite.

The NPR story online features a video recording of the incomparable Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Up Above My Head," as a sampler of what's on the DVD, not to mention a sampler of the next fifty years of guitar playing in popular music.


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