The Birth of Gospel

Spring 2014

Program Notes

Woke Up This Morning


Until I Found the Lord

arr. André Thomas

Precious Lord

Thomas A. Dorsey

He is Marvelous

Rosephayne Powell

Am I A Soldier of the Cross

Dr. Watts, arr. Joseph Jennings,

ed. Jonathan Miller

I Want to Walk and Talk with Jesus

Robert Mayes

The Storm is Passing Over

Tindley, arr. Barbara W. Baker

Perfect Praise

Walt Whitman/Brenda Joyce Moore,

arr. Nolan Williams, Jr.

Didn't It Rain

arr. and additional lyrics by Rollo Dilworth


Selections from guest ensembles:

Apr. 11: Oak Park and River Forest High School Gospel Choir
Apr. 12: Faith Temple Church of God in Christ Youth Choir
Apr. 13: DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church Gospel Choir
Apr. 19: Triedstone Full Gospel Baptist Church “Youth in Action” Choir

Hallelujah! I'm Going to Praise His Name!

Robert L. Morris

The Strife is O'er

               G.P. da Palestrina, adapt. and

arr. William H. Monk, 1861; text from Symphonia Sirenum,

Cologne, 1695; tr. Francis Pott, 1861

Goodbye, World, Goodbye

Mosie Lister, arr. Steve Mauldin,

adapted by Joseph Linn

No Rocks a-Cryin'

Rollo Dilworth

Beams of Heaven

Tindley, arr. Robert Wooten, Jr.

I Can Go To God In Prayer 
(Chicago a cappella and guest ensemble)

Calvin Bridges
encore:  Soon and Very Soon Andrae Crouch


From the Artistic Director

I have wanted to have Chicago a cappella tell this story for a long time.

As many of you know, I sometimes get great concert ideas from reading books. Back in the late 1990s, when I lived in Oak Park, I read two books that grabbed my attention: Land of Hope by James Grossman and The Rise of the Gospel Blues by Michael Harris. The first is a masterful history of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North. The second is a work of music history that brilliantly talks about the tensions (of musical taste, texts, and social class) in Chicago churches during the Great Migration—tensions that Thomas A. Dorsey, Charles Tindley, and others finessed masterfully. I remember devouring chapter after chapter of both books. Lightbulbs went off in my head repeatedly, as I saw connections of people and ideas and history that I’d never seen before. I am partway through Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns at present, which adds a personal, narrative element to the history of these same years.

Gospel music is an urban art form, generally performed with piano, which is a little bit unusual for a group that calls itself Chicago a cappella. Nevertheless, for the fifteen years during which I’ve nurtured the idea of a “Birth of Gospel” program, it has always seemed like a great idea. The story is so good, the music is so vibrant, and the combination has been so essential to our nation’s musical and cultural heritage.

Part of the gestation period for “Birth of Gospel” has been to find the right leader for this repertoire. What has made this concert not just possible but successful beyond my initial dreams is the rich and fruitful collaboration that we’ve had with Dr. Rollo Dilworth. In addition to being a truly world-class scholar and performer, Rollo is personally connected to many of the people whose music we are presenting today. As Rollo has mentioned to me on several occasions, the story of gospel music is in many ways his own story, for gospel music has shaped his own musical development in profound and lasting ways.

The singers and I would like to thank Rollo for his tremendous contributions through our planning and rehearsal process. We have all deepened and grown in knowledge and appreciation of this superb art form as a result. Now it’s your turn. Thanks for being here.

Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director

From the Guest Music Director

Welcome to The Birth of Gospel.

It is my hope that this program will present to audiences a sample of the kinds of songs and singing traditions that have helped to shape and define the gospel sound. While gospel music today is celebrated and embraced by people all over the world, many of the elements that make up gospel have their roots in the African American culture. From the tribal ceremonial songs and rhythmic riffs of the African continent to the field hollers, plantation songs, folk melodies, spirituals, blues and hymn singing traditions of America, the lifestyles and life circumstances of an African American people were combined to develop a musical framework for what has become known to the world as GOSPEL.

Rollo Dilworth
Guest Music Director

Notes on the Music by Rollo Dilworth

Woke Up This Morning

This spiritual served as a symbol of the unwavering faith of the slave. This particular song is “testifying” in design, for it outlines the personal story and religious convictions of a people who kept the Lord on their minds and in their hearts, despite the oppression they were experiencing. Woke Up This Mornin’ is one of a few well-known African American spirituals that received a resurgence as it “crossed over” into the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s an 1960’s. As part of a continued struggle for equality and justice, many people who participated in this historic movement—representing diverse races, cultures, and religious backgrounds—sang Woke Up This Mornin’ as an anthem of resistance to the segregation laws that dominated the social and political landscape of the southern United States.

Until I Found the Lord

Although many of the African slaves brought to this country were known to be spiritual (perhaps polytheistic in orientation), it is the Christian faith that permeated African American culture as the evangelists delivered biblical narratives and sermons on the plantations. Both slave owners and members of the clergy would often use religion as a means of keeping the slaves submissive to God and to their masters. The slaves diligently searched for their own personal salvation, for they knew they would ultimately be free when God called them to Heaven. While there are no direct biblical references for this spiritual, the verse “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessolonians 5:17) comes to mind as the text “I prayed and I prayed, I prayed all night long” is sung. As with most spirituals, there is the possibility of coded language, as well. In this case, the certain verses of the text could possibly point to a planned escape. Given that the concept of “finding the Lord” meant eternal freedom, it is easy to imaging the slave’s willingness to “walk and walk” until one “finds the Lord.”

This spiritual was popularized during the 40’s and 50’s by gospel quartet groups, in particular the Deep South Boys and the Christianaires. This arrangement by André J. Thomas, has quickly become a staple in the choral repertory. Dr. Thomas is currently Director of Choral Activities at The Florida State University. He has composed and arranged numerous pieces, many of which reflect African American singing traditions.

For the record: Andre Thomas’s “Go Down in the Valley and Pray” appears on our CD Bound For Glory!

Precious Lord

Precious Lord, Take My Hand is considered by many scholars as the seminal piece that propelled the development of gospel music. Thomas A. Dorsey started his musical career as a blues musician, working under the stage name “Georgia Tom.” It was during his time on the religious circuit that he learned of the tragic loss of his wife and unborn child. In the midst of this pain and grief he recalls a voice giving him the words to this song. Precious Lord, Take My Hand is has been translated and published in hymnals around the world.

He is Marvelous

He is Marvelous is a gospel-style piece that is carefully constructed using contrapuntal techniques. The piece opens and closes using individually introduced vocal lines that are melodically independent yet harmonically interdependent. As each vocal line is layered into the texture, the dramatic intensity of the piece increases. Unlike the contrapuntal writing of Western European traditions, gospel-style counterpoint in the African American tradition does not require one musical line to move into the background as the introduction of a new musical line comes to the fore. As with communal music making practices on the African continent where all contributions to the product are given equal weight and value, so it is with the vocal counterpoint in the African American gospel tradition.

Rosephanye Dunn Powell (b. 1962) is Professor of Voice at Auburn University in Auburn, AL. She has composed numerous choral octavos as well as extended works for choral ensembles of various vocal configurations.

For the record: Rosephanye Powell’s “Who is the baby?” appears on our CD Christmas a cappella.

Am I A Soldier of the Cross

Just as African American slaves in this country continued to deepen their spiritual roots in the Christian tradition, so did their exposure to the texts and melodies of European hymnody. In particular, the hymn texts of Isaac Watts (1647-1748) were commonly sung. African Americans often created their own melodies to these texts in what was considered a “lining out” fashion. Because Isaac Watts was a respected preacher, he became known in the African American community as “Dr. Watts,” which in turn became the default name for the lining out process itself. This process involved each line of the hymn being sung in a call and response fashion. The leader or caller delivers each line in a spoken or quasi-recitative fashion and the congregation responds by singing the same text in a slow, emotional and elongated fashion, often characterized by hums, moans, pitch bends and wails. All of these techniques and stylistic features are reminiscent of ceremonial singing practices on the African continent.

The arranger of this piece, Joseph Jennings, joined the San Francisco based all-male a cappella group Chanticleer in 1983 as a countertenor. He soon assumed the role of Music Director for the ensemble and remained with the group until retirement in 2009. Under Jennings’ leadership the ensemble recorded 25 albums and earned 3 Grammy awards. Am I A Soldier of the Cross appears on the album Where the Sun Will Never Go Down.

I Want to Walk and Talk with Jesus

This piece was composed by Robert Mayes (1942-1992). He was born and raised in St. Louis, MO and studied piano with A.B. Windom. After a stint in the United States Army, Mayes moved to Chicago and continued his career playing in local clubs with artists such as Quincy Jones, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. He also served as music director for Delois Barrett Campbell and the Barrett Sisters, for whom he wrote I Want to Walk and Talk with Jesus. Mayes also served as Minister of Music for Christ Universal Temple until his death in March 1992.

I Want to Walk and Talk with Jesus became a signature piece for the Barrett Sisters. The song utilizes a standard 12-bar blues chord progression. The Barrett Sisters, comprised of Delois Barrett Campbell (mezzo-soprano and lead singer), Rodessa Barrett Porter (soprano) and Billie Barrett GreenBey (alto), were an iconic Chicago-based gospel group that flourished for more than 5 decades. They are featured singers in the award winning documentary film on the history of gospel music, “Say Amen, Somebody.”

The Storm is Passing Over

Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933) was widely considered to be a principal architect of the African American gospel tradition. Born in Berlin, Maryland, Tindley married at age 17 and moved to Philadelphia. He worked as a sexton at the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church. It was in 1885 that he passed the examination for ministry after attending night school for several years. As an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, he served as pastor for several churches on the east coast beforereturning to Philadelphia in 1902 to lead the very same church that had employed him as a sexton. It was during these years in Philadelphia that he composed the majority of his gospel hymns. Because he could not read or write music, Tindley was dependent upon transcribers and arrangers to put his music on paper. Almost 50 of Tindley’s gospel hymns (many of which he sang during his sermons) were published. Although these hymns were similar in structure to that of European hymnody, scholar Bernice Johnson Reagon points to three elements that made Tindley’s gospel hymnody distinctive:

“In the first place, he concentrated on texts that gave attention to such important concerns of Black Christians as worldly sorrows, blessing, and woes, as well as the joys of the afterlife. Second, he placed many of his melodies in the beloved pentatonic scale and left a certain amount of space in his melodic line and harmonic scale for interpolation of the so-called blue thirds and sevenths. He also allows space for the inevitable improvisation of text, melody, harmony and rhythm, so characteristic of Black American folk and popular music” (Reagon, p. 57).

Such distinguishing features of Tindley’s compositions would become the blueprint for the gospel songwriters that followed. The Storm is Passing Over was first published in 1905, and is widely sung by church, school, community and professional choirs around the world today.

Perfect Praise

Perfect Praise, also know as “Oh Lord, How Excellent,” is based upon Psalm 8. The piece was penned by composer Brenda Joyce Moore, who has written for a number of artists and choirs, particularly those in the Chicago area. Perfect Praise is a gospel-style piece with characteristics of a ballad (because of its slow moving tempo and harmonic rhythm) and an anthem (because of its majestic homophonic and contrapuntal textures). This piece was originally performed and recorded in 1990 by Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago on the album “This is the Day.” Chicago gospel soprano Lacresia Campbell was the featured soloist.

Didn’t it Rain

Didn’t It Rain is based on the traditional African American spiritual that has its origins in the Old Testament and is narrative in its design. It dramatically depicts the story of the Noah and the flood. After the baritone soloist introduces the chorus of the spiritual, the SATB choir responds with a harmonized version. In the 1950’s, a gospel style arrangement of Didn’t it Rain was developed by Roberta Martin and popularized by Chicago singer Mahalia Jackson.

For the record: Rollo Dilworth’s “Roll, Jordan, Roll!” and “Sistah Mary” appear on our CD Bound For Glory!

Hallelujah! I’m Going to Praise His Name

This is a traditional gospel song with exact origins unknown. Like the spiritual, this is a song that has been passed down through African American Baptist and Pentecostal Churches for many years. This tune was recorded under the title “I Don’t’ Care What the World May Do” by Professor Alex Bradford in 1958. The upbeat gospel praise song bears a text that is testifying in design.

Chicago-born composer, conductor, pianist/organist and educator Robert L. Morris has directed choral programs at Macalester College, Hampton University, and Winston-Salem State University. He is founding artistic director of the Leigh Morris Chorale, a community chorus based in the Twin Cities whose primary mission is to educate audiences about African American classical and written choral music traditions.

For the record: Robert L. Morris’s “Save Me, Lord!” appears on our CD Bound for Glory! and “Glory to the Newborn King” and “Children Go Where I Send Thee” on our CD Holidays a cappella Live.

The Strife is O’er

This European hymn is based on a tune that goes all the way back to Renaissance era composer Giovanni Palestrina (1525-1594). As with many European hymns, this piece can be found in hymnals compiled for African American congregations, including the African American Heritage Hymnal. Many traditional European hymns—although written in their original forms—were reinterpreted by African American congregations with stylistic elements such as swing rhythms, swells and percussive style vocals.

Goodbye, World, Goodbye

This piece was composed by gospel singer and songwriter Thomas Mosie Lister (b. 1921). Lister’s studies in music began in 1939 at the Vaughn School of Music in Tennessee. As a singer, he performed with the Sunny South Quartet and later as the original baritone for the Statesmen. After leaving the Statesmen as a singer, he remained as a writer for the group and formed his own publishing company in 1953. He also wrote choral music for the Lillenas Publishing Company, which includes the song Goodbye, World, Goodbye. It was first published in 1955, and it many ways it typifies the Southern Gospel quartetstyle. Mosie Lister was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1976, and into the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1997.

No Rocks a-Cryin’

Based on Psalm 47, No Rocks A-Cryin’ is an original work that is richly rooted in the contemporary African American gospel tradition. The title of the piece takes its cue from the 19th chapter of Luke when Jesus rides down from the Mount of Olives on a colt and the crowd begins to praise Him. When the Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke His disciples for their behavior, He responds, “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, these stones would immediately cry out.” The opening section of the piece presents unison lines and close parallel harmonies in heavily syncopated patterns. The middle section transitions from C major to A minor, and features a contrapuntal treatment of a single melodic theme that is reminiscent of the opening unison statement of the piece. This anthemlike contrapuntal section concludes with a statement in the parallel major key of A in which the bass line presents the melodic theme in augmented form. The special chorus, punctuating the text “No, no, no, no rocks a cryin’,” brings the piece to a dramatic close with bold, syncopated rhythms along with harmonic and textural repetitions.

For the record: Rollo Dilworth’s “Roll, Jordan, Roll!” and “Sistah Mary” appear on our CD Bound For Glory!

Beams of Heaven

Written by Charles Albert Tindley, Beams of Heaven was published in 1905. Later arranged by Robert “Gene” Wooten, Sr. (1930-2008), a Chicago musician, educator and administrator, Beams of Heaven remains an oft-performed gospel hymn in the African American church. In 1949, Wooten Sr. founded the Wooten Choral Ensemble, which was based at the church where he served as Minister of Music (Beth Eden Baptist Church). He remained as director in both capacities for 50 years. Today, the Wooten Choral Ensemble continues to flourish under the direction of the senior Wooten’s son, Robert “Bobby” Wooten, Jr.

I Can Go to God in Prayer

I Can Go to God is Prayer was written by Calvin Bridges, a Chicago composer, director and ordained minister. From 1979-1999, he served as Associate Minister of Music at the Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church. In 2000 he was ordained as an Elder in the Churches of God, and he currently holds membership at Apostolic Faith Church. Reverend Bridges continues to facilitate gospel music ministry and workshops around the world. He is a Grammy nominated artist and is a two-time recipient of the Stellar Award. I Can Go to God in Prayer is probably the most well known composition in the catalog of Calvin Bridges. It became a signature selection for famed Chicago gospel singer Albertina Walker. In terms of structural design, this piece is built on call and response patterns that are exchanged between soloist and choir. The verses are designed in the form of call and response “completion,” in which the choir finishes the statements of the soloist. In he chorus section of the piece the soloists words “I can call Him, when I need Him” are repeated by the choir using a repeated, syncopated rhythm pattern. The special chorus features cosigning responses from the chorus on the text “Yes He can. Yes, He can. Yes, He can. Oh, yes he can!”