The Forgotten Voices of Race Records: Pullman Porters, the Rev TT Rose, and the ‘Man with a Clarinet’

The Forgotten Voices of Race Records: Pullman Porters, the Rev TT Rose, and the ‘Man with a Clarinet’

Image 20150226 1819 pfhq3u.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Ma Rainey was one of Paramount Records’ most popular artists. JP Jazz Archive/Redferns

In the 1920s and 1930s, record sales of black artists were very lucrative for the music industry. As a June 1926 article from Talking Machine World explained:

The Negro trade is…itself…an enormously profitable occupation for the retailer who knows his way about…. The segregation of the Negro population has enabled dealers to build up a trade catering to this race exclusively.

Yet record companies routinely took advantage of the more unschooled, vernacular performers – especially black ones, who were already denied access to broader markets. It was standard operating procedure back in the days of “race music” – the name given to recordings by black artists that were marketed to the black buying public.

“Some will rob you with a six-gun…and some with a fountain pen.” So said Woody Guthrie in his song “Pretty Boy Floyd.”

Bottom line: if record companies could get away with it, there was no bottom line. No negotiated contract to sign. No publishing. No royalties. Wham bam thank you man. Take a low-ball flat fee and hit the road. Anonymity was also implicit in the deal, so many black artists were forgotten, their only legacy the era’s brittle shellac disks that were able to withstand the wear of time.

‘Some will rob you with a six-gun…and some with a fountain pen’ – record companies like Paramount routinely exploited black musicians in the 1920s. Wikimedia Commons

One of the most prominent early race labels was Paramount Records, which, between 1917 and 1932, recorded a breathtaking cross-section of seminal African-American artists.

In 2013 I learned that Jack White of Third Man Records (in partnership with Dean Blackwood’s Revenant Records) would be putting together a compilation of Paramount’s historic recordings. The project would be a grand collaboration of two deluxe volumes that would contain a stunning 1,600 tracks.

I was part of a team of researchers and writers tasked with unearthing new information about the featured artists and their songs. For me, it was an opportunity to put a face on some of Paramount’s more enigmatic artists. Listening to track after track, a zeitgeist began to coalesce. As voices from the grooves accrued to tell a story of a collective black experience, I came to see these performances as cumulative cultural memory – each track a brushstroke in a painting of a long-forgotten landscape.

Here’s a taste of what I found.

Pullman Porters Quartette

The Pullman Company, manufacturers of railroad passenger cars, was magnanimous towards its African-American workforce. Among other benefits, they provided in-house musical instruction, which included a cappella quartet singing lessons.

The Pullman Company employed a large number of African Americans as porters. Flickr/antefixus U.E., CC BY-NC-ND

The Pullman quartets, I learned, were a franchise: multiple configurations of singers performing concurrently under the company banner. They put on concerts, either performing live on the radio, or on long haul train routes as a form of passenger entertainment. The men who made the records were billed as the “President’s Own” – the working Pullman porters considered the company’s premier lineup.

In the late 1920s, The Pullman Porters Quartette of Chicago recorded a number of sides for Paramount. One tune was “Jog-a-Long Boys,” where they sang of sad roosters and being turned down by widow Brown, the “fattest gal in town.” The chorus went:

Jog-a-long, boys, jog-a-long, boys,

Be careful when you smile,

Do the latest style,

But jog-a-long, jog-a-long boys.

Jog-a-long, boys, jog-a-long, boys,

Don’t fool with google eyes,

That would not be wise,

But jog-a-long, jog-a-long boys.

At first, it seemed as if it were no more than a silly ditty performed in upbeat counterpoint harmony. Then it hit me: they were making light of a horrific reality – specifically, that a black man who dared to smile or even look askance at a white woman was putting himself in grave danger.

Look your best, but don’t forget your place…and just jog along, boys.

‘Jog-a-long Boys,’ by The Pullman Porters Quartet of Chicago.

Horace George

Horace George of Horace George’s Jubilee Harmonizers was a showman and an opportunist, a versatile musician who performed in whatever style sold, whether it was novelty gospel, blues, comedy or jazz.

His gospel group cut one record for Paramount in 1924, but he first surfaced as early as 1906, advertised in the Indianapolis Freeman as “the great clarinetist, comedian, and vocalist.” A few years later, George found himself in Seattle as the “Famous Colored Comedian…who gives correct images,” and later as the “Man with the Clarinet” in a touring black vaudeville troupe, the Great Dixieland Spectacle Company.

In the late 1910s, a black newspaper – the Indianapolis Freeman – called Horace George “a novelty on any bill.” The novelty? He could play three clarinets at once!

Rev TT Rose

Beyond the rollicking piano-driven gospel sides he cut for Paramount in the late 1920s, nothing was known of Rev T T Rose. Rose’s “Goodbye Babylon” was the title track of Dust-to-Digital’s 2004 Grammy-nominated collection, Goodbye, Babylon. It was also inspiration for a rock ‘n’ roll tune by the Black Keys. And Rose’s recording of “If I Had My Way, I’d Tear This Building Down” – later performed by artists ranging from Rev. Gary Davis to the Grateful Dead – is one of the earliest known recorded versions of that song.

Rev Rose’s personal story was the most heartening of all. He lived in Springfield, Illinois, and I located his 90-plus-year-old daughter Dorothy, who described her father as a man on a mission to end racism and institutionalized segregation.

As a child, Rose had witnessed the aftermath of the infamous 1908 Springfield Race Riots, an event that precipitated the formation of the NAACP. In the late 1920s Rose moved from Chicago to Springfield, in order to minister the city’s black community.

In an oral history recording, Rev Rose described Springfield as “just really a type of Southern town” with an “overpowering resentment of the Negro…distrust and the fear that the Negro might someday become stronger.” When he returned to Springfield, he observed that the time that had elapsed since the race riots was “a very short span of time to erase all the scars and the prejudices and the hate that was engendered…in that very unfortunate affair.”

It was a hate, he continued, that “Kind of hung like a cloud from an atomic bomb over the whole neighborhood” causing the black citizens of Springfield to go “into themselves quite a bit.”

After his short recording career with Paramount in the late 1920s, Rev Rose went on to become a regional bishop in the Church of God in Christ. He recorded because he thought songs could both uplift and spread messages of hope and perseverance in the struggle for Civil Rights. When he sang “If I Had My Way,” it’s clear that the building he wanted to tear down was no less than the edifice of racism.

Lord, if I had my way,

Oh Lord, if I, if I had my way,

In this wicked world, if I had my way,

God, knows I’d tear this building down.The Conversation

‘If I Had My Way,’ by Rev TT Rose.

Jerry Zolten, Associate Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Recap: 2016 Gospel Grammy Winners

Recap: 2016 Gospel Grammy Winners

Kirk Franklin and WifeThe 58th Grammy Awards were everything we expected filled with great music, interesting acceptance speeches (Taylor, we’re looking at you.), and phenomenal live performances. And in case you missed it, here’s a recap on which of your favorite gospel artists walked away with the highest honors during music’s biggest night of the year.

Gospel Album

“Destined to Win [Live],” Karen Clark Sheard
“Living It,” Dorinda Clark-Cole
“One Place Live,” Tasha Cobbs
“Covered: Alive in Asia [Live] (Deluxe),” Israel & Newbreed- WINNER
“Life Music: Stage Two,” Jonathan McReynolds

Gospel Performance/Song

“Worth [Live],” Anthony Brown and Group Therapy
“Wanna Be Happy?,” Kirk Franklin- WINNER
“Intentional,” Travis Greene
“How Awesome Is Our God [Live],” Israel and Newbreed featuring Yolanda Adams; Neville Diedericks, Israel Houghton and Meleasa Houghton, songwriters
“Worth Fighting For [Live],” Brian Courtney Wilson; Aaron Lindsey and Brian Courtney Wilson, songwriters

Contemporary Christian Music Album

“Whatever the Road,” Jason Crabb
“How Can It Be,” Lauren Daigle
“Saints and Sinners,” Matt Maher
“This Is Not a Test,” Tobymac- WINNER
“Love Ran Red,” Chris Tomlin

Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song

“Holy Spirit,” Francesca Battistelli- WINNER
“Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains),” Crowder; Ed Cash, David Crowder and Seth Philpott, songwriters
“Because He Lives (Amen),” Matt Maher
“Soul on Fire,” Third Day featuring All Sons & Daughters; Tai Anderson, Brenton Brown, David Carr, Mark Lee, Matt Maher and Mac Powell, songwriters
“Feel It,” Tobymac featuring Mr. Talkbox; Cary Barlowe, David Arthur Garcia and Toby McKeehan, songwriters

 Roots Gospel Album

“Still Rockin’ My Soul,” the Fairfield Four- WINNER
“Pray Now,” Karen Peck and New River
“Directions Home (Songs We Love, Songs You Know),” Point of Grace

We Interview The Ambassador, Da′ T.R.U.T.H., Mali Music and More!

We Interview The Ambassador, Da′ T.R.U.T.H., Mali Music and More!

Late last month, The Misfit Tour, featuring Christian Hip-Hop′s biggest artists stopped in
Chicago. We caught up with heavyweights like The Ambassador, Da′ T.R.U.T.H.,
Mali Music and more, backstage for exclusive interviews. The term “misfit” isn′t just for
show. Several artists have raw stories of scandal that have been made quite public recently,
but they are back with a battle cry of redemption and they are recruiting soldiers left on the
field. Watch the video below!


Music video featuring Ambassador, Sean Simmonds, Da′ Truth, Mali Music and more below!

Remembering Jessy Dixon

Remembering Jessy Dixon

Gospel singer and songwriter Jessy Dixon died at home in Chicago Monday, September 26, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The 73-year-old succumbed to an undisclosed illness, his sister Miriam Dixon told AP.

Dixon wrote songs for Cher, Diana Ross, Natalie Cole, and Amy Grant, but was best known for popularizing gospel outside the United States, AP reported, and for his collaborations with Paul Simon, according to an article in the Chicago Sun Times.

“He was a man of God, he loved to praise the Lord,” Miriam Dixon told the Chicago Tribune. “He had many opportunities to sing other music, but he loved gospel.”

“Dixon was born in San Antonio, Texas, and began singing there. In Chicago, he connected with gospel great James Cleveland and over the years performed with a number of gospel groups,” the Tribune reported.

An obituary on Dixon’s website says that he authored more than 200 songs, including the gospel classics “I Love To Praise His Name” and “He’s The Best Thing … To Happen to Me,” but was perhaps most known for his 1993 hit “I Am Redeemed” a song that “impacted audiences worldwide, and held a top-ten position on the gospel charts for over five years.”

Dixon had been “a cherished fixture on the Bill Gaither Gospel Hour television series and concert tours” for the past 16 years,” the obituary said. He also received numerous Dove and Grammy award nominations, earned five gold records, and was a 2008 Christian Music Hall of Fame inductee.

“Jessy Dixon was a great influence on me personally,” Grammy-winning gospel recording artist Donald Lawrence told the Sun Times. “He was a great representative of the city and defined the sound of Chicago gospel and introduced that sound to audiences all over the world. Jessy was the ultimate sophisticated gospel singer-songwriter.”

He is survived by a brother and sister. His website says a “Homegoing Celebration” will be held Monday October 10, 2011 at 6:00 p.m. at the Family Christian Center in Munster, Indiana.

Hezekiah Walker Is Lovin’ It

Hezekiah Walker Is Lovin’ It

This summer, the McDonald’s Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour is coming to a city near you, headlined by Hezekiah Walker! The tour stopped in Atlanta on June 11th, and will stop in Jackson, Mississippi, tonight!

Urban Ministries Inc. (UrbanFaith’s parent company), which has provided Christian educational materials for the black community for over 40 years, is co-sponsoring the event alongside McDonald’s.

Walker is a Grammy Award winner, pastor, and actor, and I recently had the pleasure to chat with him about his plans to take this year’s tour to a new level.

Check out the interview below, and CLICK HERE to sign up for a meet and greet pass at a tour location near you!

Hezekiah Walker Interview

DATES FOR THE TOUR:

JUNE 11, Atlanta, GA, REGISTER NOW / VIEW PICS

JUNE 14, Jackson, MS,  REGISTER NOW / VIEW PICS

JUNE 16, Philadelphia, PA,  REGISTER NOW / VIEW PICS

JUNE 21, Detroit, MI,  REGISTER NOW / VIEW PICS

JUNE 23, Chicago, IL,  REGISTER NOW / VIEW PICS

JUNE 25, Dallas, TX, REGISTER NOW / VIEW PICS

JULY 22, Los Angeles, CA, REGISTER NOW / VIEW PICS