Sunday, June 26, 2011

Black is the Forest

During the '60s, black gospel was somewhat of an export success story. Several groups toured Europe, and few more so than the Robert Patterson Singers from Brooklyn. Repeatedly they went to the Netherlands, Germany and the UK, and some of their concerts in Europe were recorded.

Saba LP # 15153 back cover
Robert Patterson, pianist and arranger, first recorded with a vocal group in December 1950. They then built a solid recording career, albeit the members of the singing group were chang- ing over the years. Their spiritual way came to an end when they »turned pop«  in August '71 and signed a contract with Atlantic; in Feb-  ruary '72 their one and only Atlantic album (Atco LP # 380) saw the light of the day. Fittingly, they now didn't play Gospel venues but opened at the Hilton International in Las Vegas on June 26 of the same year, squeezed in between such bored Nevada-veterans the likes of Tom Jones and Elvis.
     Back in 1965, they had come to Germany for the first time, appearing at the American Spiritual Festival in Bremen. In November '67, they were back in Europe, first in Amsterdam, then in the town of Villingen in the Black Forest region. Enthustiastically received, they gave a concert in the local SABA auditorium on November 30, 1967. This concert was taped and released in 1968 on a German pressing. Another concert, in Frankfurt, was likewise recorded and released in the U.S. on Minit Gospel # 24021 (as »The Soul of Gospel«). However, being too much in the pop mould for some, too long abroad for others the Patterson Singers elicited more than one biting remark in the contemporary press:
»The singers, resembling the Supremes in appearance and demeanor, went through their set with all the professionalism and showmanship of that soul group. Their voices left nothing to be desired. But something was lost amid all the glitter in their slick interpretation of gospel material. ... The group seems to have carved out a successful niche miles from "down home"« wrote Daniel Goldberg in Billboard (Sept. 6, 1969, page 32).
The vocal group of the Patterson Singers in November 1967 included Elaine Davis (formerly of Inez Andrews's »Andrewettes«), Everlena Miles, Mary Stephens, Irene Leader and Mildred Lane (lead vocals). Mildred was part of the Back Home Choir of the Greater Harvest Baptist Church during the early '60s and then became a member of the Patterson Singers.

Saba LP # 15153 (1968)
The Black Forest concert of the Patterson Singers consists of palatable gospel standards popular in Europe (»He Got The Whole World In His Hands«, »Down By The Riverside«) and some other material besides (»Freedom«). Quite clearly, the latter stuff is the one that is of interest to us and, equally obvious, the highlight of the concert is their 6-minute-plus rendition of »He Won't Fail You« (variously mis-spelled on the German LP sleeve as »We Wan't Fail You« or »We Won't Fall You«, lucky us they didn't concoct variants of the »We Won't Nail You«-sort!!) Sorry, back to serious. The song comes at the middle of the concert (if the sequence of songs on the LP is to be trusted) and makes for a soaring climax. It is basically separated into two parts both showcasing lead singer Mildred Lane.The first, more traditionally-styled part has Mildred shouting along with the group behind her, and it already makes for a nice listening experience, soulful, beat-driven and all. But after some 4 minutes and thundering applause, Mildred kicks it really off with a remarkable and sky-downing solo that'll send the shivers down your spine. Listen to her how she does it and freeze in awe:

The Robert Patterson Singers feat. Mildred Lane:
»He Won't Fail You« from the Saba LP »Gospel Meeting Tonight« (1968):

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1 comment:

  1. I understand Judy White joined the Patterson Singers and toured with them in early 70s. I am presuming she was featured on the secular Atco LP you mentioned which I have been thinking of getting recently.