A joyful noise! Rare gospel grooves from the 1970s and ‘80s, influenced by secular funky sounds.
This month we delve into more rare groove jams in DJ Soul Sister’s record collection, and take a two-hour trip through the world of gospel music from the 1970s and ‘80s. These special tracks were inspired and influenced by secular soul, funk, and disco.
“Keep on Serving God” – The Violinaires (1981)
Here, tenor vocalist Dwight “Teto” Arthur adapts Shalamar’s 1979 hit “The Second Time Around” for the church (and the dancefloor).
“He’s Alright” – Spirit of Love (1978)
Produced and written by organist Calvin Bridges, and featuring soloists Minnie Auriene and Mary Moore with the Spirit of Love choir of Chicago. Bridges also briefly dabbled in secular music, working with Curtis Mayfield, and writing and playing keyboards on a few Curtom Records releases like If My Friends Could See Me Now by Linda Clifford (1978) and Leroy Hutson’s Closer to the Source (1978) and Unforgettable (1979).
“Give Me Jesus” – The White Brothers (1978)
Reverend James Cleveland produced this dancefloor-friendly cut for brothers Alphonso and Robert White of the St. Louis, Missouri area.
“He Will Provide” – Inspired Gospel Singers (1982)
Hailing from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this soulful groover is included on the album, Shouting About Life’s Ups and Downs.
“He is Everything” – North Illinois University Black Choir (1979)
The NIU Black Choir formed in 1968 in Dekalb, Illinois. This recording shows that the disco beat made its way to even the churches of the Midwest. Recorded at Shade Tree Studio in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
“Power” – Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark (1981)
The power of this track comes not only from the songwriting, production, vocals, and keyboard mastery of Twinkie Clark of the legendary Clark Sisters of Detroit. It’s also powered by a non-gospel rhythm section, including Leroy Emmanuel (The Counts, Bohannon), Craig Moreland (Crowd Pleasers), Lee Marcus (Dennis Coffey), Donald Payne (Janis Ian, Ellen McIlwaine), Carl “Butch” Small (Parliament-Funkadelic), and acclaimed trumpeter Wallace Roney. Twinkie’s famous singing sisters provide backing vocals.
“I Can’t Help Myself” – The Rance Allen Group (1984)
Rance Allen was one of the first gospel artists to find success in merging secular music styles with religious messages. As an artist on Stax Records’ Gospel Truth label, he appeared in the 1972 film Wattstax. His group’s 1977 album, Say My Friend, was produced by acclaimed jazz and R&B producers Fonce and Larry Mizell. This track is from Allen’s self-produced album, I Give Myself to You.
“Shining Star” – The Mighty Chariots (1981)
Recorded live in December, 1981, at the Stronger Hope Baptist Church of New Orleans, where the group is from. Vocalist Jerome Clark translates this version of The Manhattans’ 1980 hit of the same name especially for the church.
“I’m Going On” – Mildred Clark and the Melody Aires (1976)
Founded in Kansas City, Missouri, and recorded this for Peacock Records, which boasted the massive gospel music division for ABC Records.
“Wait on Jesus” – The Williams Brothers (1982)
Based in Jackson, Mississippi, this popular family group has recorded consistently since the early 1970s. This song from the group’s album, Brother to Brother, was recorded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“Keep on Praising Him” – Sam Davis and the Gospel Ensemble (1981)
Vocalist Sam Davis co-founded Gospel Choirs United, a choir that evolved into an initiative to unite and represent African-American congregations throughout the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas of Minnesota in performance and organization.
“Be on Fire” – Esther Smith (1984)
This R&B-flavored song of praise includes a special treat for hardcore P-Funk fans. Singing alongside Esther Smith are Parliament-Funkadelic vets Mallia Franklin (Parlet, Zapp), Shirley Hayden (Parlet), and Steve Boyd (Five Special, P-Funk All-Stars).
“After the Rain” – Pastor T. L. Barrett (1976)
Recorded for the album Do Not Pass Me By for Gospel Roots, a subsidiary of T.K. Records. You can learn more about Pastor Barrett, including his being “spiritual counsellor for Earth, Wind & fire,” in the liner notes for the recently-released Gospel Roots compilation, Christians Catch Hell, on Honest Jons Records.
“Jesus is My Best Friend” – Dorinda Clark Cole, directed by Mattie Moss Clark (1979)
Included on an album of performances recorded live in Los Angeles at the UNAC (United National Auxiliary Conference) of the COGIC (Church of God in Christ) denomination. Not only the matriarch of the world-famous Clark Sisters, but also a pioneering figure in gospel music as COGIC’s music department president. According to the book Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia, Clark was the “first conductor to teach three-part harmony . . ..” Her compositions also revolutionized gospel music instrumentation, as COGIC music ministers wound up having to buy instruments not previously featured in its services – such as drum kits and Hammond B3 organs – in order to properly present her polyrhythmic songs during worship. Here, she directs her then 21 year-old daughter, Dorinda Clark Cole, with COGIC choirs. “Twinkie” Clark also accompanies on organ.
“Never Gonna Give You Up” – The Gospel Seekers (1985)
Recorded for the album, The Gospel Train, for Church Door Records.
“The Goodness of God” – Jackson Southernairs (1979)
Recorded for the album, Legendary Gentlemen, for Malaco Records.
“He Keeps Me Company” – The Clark Sisters (1981)
The Clark Sisters set a precedent for today’s most successful contemporary gospel female vocalists, and “Twinkie” Clark’s compositions weren’t afraid to integrate secular music sounds into this mix.
“You Brought the Sunshine” – Rev. Charles Nicks Jr. and the St. James Choir (1985)
The Clark Sisters’ “You Brought the Sunshine” was so popular that it crossed over from gospel to #16 on Billboard’s R&B chart. Mattie Moss Clark, mother of the Clark Sisters, recalled in an interview that Studio 54 invited the group to perform the song live at its disco – an invitation which she declined. The songs writer “Twinkie” Clark said the melody and reggae-flavored beat were inspired by Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’). Here’s a rare instrumental version recorded live at Ford Auditorium in Detroit by the St. James Gospel Band.
“Hear Our Prayer” – Timothy Wright and the Celestial Choir of Washington Temple COGIC (1976)
Featuring the Church of God and Christ choir based in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York City.
“The Power of Your Love” – Spirit of Love (1978)
The title track of the Chicago choir’s album for Birthright Records, produced by music minister Calvin Bridges. The album’s liner notes thank acclaimed soul music artist Leroy Hutson, though he is not credited (nor may appear) as a performer. Features soloist Ann Craft.
“Is There Anybody Here” – The Alvin Darling Ensemble (1978)
From the group’s second album, All Together for One, on Inspirational Sounds Records, comes this song by pastor and pianist Alvin Darling. A review of the LP by Malaco Records describes it as “a sonic departure . . . (blending) robust choral singing with funky bass lines, disco beats, and sometimes even a flute.”
“He’s a Friend of Mine” – The Hardy Brothers (1979)
Included on the Chicago-based group’s independent release, You Can Count on Me.
“Heaven” – The Dynamic Soul Superiors (1978)
Not to be confused with the Dynamic Superiors on Motown Records, the Dynamic Soul Superiors recorded this for its Follow Me LP for Savoy Records. According to the liner notes, “The Soul Sounds Are On Savoy!!!”
“I Find No Fault in God” – The Mighty Chariots (1981)
Here’s another example of a group reinterpreting a popular song from the secular music world to adapt to a religious message. In this case, the Mighty Chariots rework the 1979 Brenda Russell composition “If Only For One Night,” popularized in 1985 by Luther Vandross, for gospel audiences.
“Grooving with Jesus” – The Violinaires (1971)
Sounding more like early Funkadelic than Reverend C. L. Franklin is the opening cut of the album Groovin’ with Jesus (included without the “g” on the end of “groovin’”). The group hails from Detroit, and is also known as the Fantastic Violinaires.
“If Jesus Came Today” – Gospel Soul Revivals (1982)
Originally released on Sonic Records on the LP, Come Together Children, this rare stomper was made widely available by Numero Group for its compilation, Good God! Born Again Funk.