Wednesday, February 01, 2012

West Virginia Goes Illinois

mid-week gospel

Hmm, soul into gospel, gospel into soul alright. But there are some curious examples of turning pop- or folk-country into gospel as well. (And I'm speaking here of black gospel, obviously.) You probably have heard of the East St. Louis Gospelettes and her energetic lead singer Frances Moore (she's gifted with a voice that recalls the timbre and the power of Mavis Staples's). In about 1977 (I am not sure about the exact date), the group released a single on Birthright (# BR-45-601), »Have A Talk With God« w/ »Glory Road«. The first is of course Stevie Wonder's tune, and the second is ... wait a moment.

The East St. Louis Gospelettes did some tough, funky gospel music, and many a soulful tune. There'll be more of them on this blog, God willing. But sometimes, the Gospelettes switched genre, as on the B-side of Birthright # 601. (Birthright, based in Los Angeles, was one of the oldest black-owned gospel music labels; their '70s business is well-covered in Billboard, see e.g. the article in the Oct. 16, 1976, issue page 47). If you listen to the B-side below, it takes only a few seconds to immedia- tely recognize the tune. Funny thing is that on the label of the 45, lead singer Frances Moore is credited with both the lyrics and the music! Well, it took some courage to do so, at least for the musical part; the lyrics are, of course, hers (mostly) and not those of the original. Listen here:

The East St. Louis Gospelettes: »Glory Road« on Birthright # 601B (1977, I believe):

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  1. She was very fortunate that the single didn't come to the attention of John Denver's record company/heirs. Otherwise, she might have faced the embarrassment that George Harrison had to endure for My Sweet Lord's so-called plagiarism of He's So Fine. It's very odd, because it's rather unChristian-like to rip off Denver's tune.


  2. Let me be the voice of Moore's advocate for a moment:
    First, it could be considered very Christian to take that song and give it a spiritual message, couldn't it?
    Second, what better way to offer an homm√Ęge to the great JD than by covering his song and adding to its popularity?
    As for George Harrison, I think he pretty much took the main melody line from He's So Fine ... and he made more money with his song than the Chiffons ever did with theirs! I am afraid that the East St. Louis Gospelettes didn't, with this single, make 0,001% of the money which went into J. Denver's pockets for his song. So let's be generous :)