Monday, January 15, 2007

Preach It

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929. That was the same year that the Rev. J.M. Gates made (most of ) these recordings, also in Atlanta. King’s father and grandfather were both Baptist preachers, like Gates. In some ways, King was the heir to the energetic, entertaining and socially conscious preaching style that Gates popularized (though King never seemed to go for quite as much bawdy humor and slapstick as Gates and his congregation did). And Gates was very popular, a mega seller in the world of race records. In fact, up until King’s assassination in 1968, Gates’s funeral was the largest African-American funeral the city had ever seen. If you can imagine a time before the televangelist, these mini sermons recorded on 78s would have satisfied people’s hunger for spiritual instruction.

Gates was always very topical. You can hear references to current events in these recordings, and one wonders what someone like Gates would have to say today about the subjects of the war, race relations, and our president.

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