The Godfather of Gospel

Title: The Godfather of Gospel

Artist: Rev. Timothy Wright

Label: Malaco Music Group

Catalog No.: SCD7131

Format: CD (two disc set)

Release date: May 2009

The Godfather of Gospel is an 18-track two disc collection of songs that pays tribute to New York native Rev. Timothy Wright, whose passing on April 24, 2009 resulted from injuries sustained in a car accident which also claimed his wife and grandson.  The collection celebrates Rev. Wright’s uniqueness as a songwriter/producer/artist throughout his recording career over multiple decades, as well as his evangelical mission to spread God’s word through song.

Several tracks on this project are notable hits from the past that will have the listener remembering when the Sunday morning worship service was filled with exuberant praise initiated by Rev. Wright’s psalmody. For instance, “Trouble Don’t Last Always” is a medium tempo groove that is funky enough to lift listeners from their seats and profound enough to conjure up praise that comes from knowing that joy may not arrive when one desires it, but it is always on time. “Who’s On The Lord’s Side” is an up-tempo track incorporating a lyrical spinoff of the Biblical Old Testament scripture in Exodus where Moses challenged the Israelites who strayed into a sinful state to choose whom they will serve (Exodus 32:26). Rev. Wright adapts this historical challenge to modern times, requiring the listener to search one’s self deeply and truthfully in order to realize his/her extent of commitment to the gospel—the Lord’s side.

“We’re Going To Make It,” featuring Myrna Summers, can still be heard on Sunday mornings as churchgoers seek hope in the midst of socio-economic, political and spiritual indecisiveness that permeates contemporary society. It is a ballad that frames the affirmations of Christians within the strength and power of Jesus Christ, thus prompting them to assert, “we’re gonna make it.” Although very repetitious, “We’re Going To Make It” maintains a steady momentum via its harmonic progression, which contributed to the broadening of gospel music parameters in the 1990s, while Rev. Wright’s and Summers’ lead vocals are articulate, well placed, round, extensive in range, controlled and highly interpretive. Simply put, they provide a clinic for aspiring listeners who wish to become effective singers in the gospel genre. In addition to the harmonic pallet and lead vocals, the choir background on this track, as with all of the songs on the album, exemplifies the best of traditional gospel ensemble singing encompassing triadic harmony, blended unison lines and enormous amplitude output during climactic sections.

While disc one of this collection includes more well-known songs from Rev. Wright’s illustrious career (the songs mentioned above are all on disc one), disc two also presents timeless jewels that are note-worthy such as “Been There Done That,” “I Know A Man,” and “Certainly Lord.” If you are seeking to experience a tribute compilation that is musically sound, this CD delivers. If you would like to hear a collection that actually includes the hits of an artist, this is a must have. And finally, if you want to realize how gospel music speaks to the social and spiritual needs of people around the world, The Godfather of Gospel is a quintessential example. I give it a thumbs-up for song choices, musicianship, interpretive value and, most importantly, the gospel message.

Reviewed by Tyron Cooper

When the Church Becomes Your Party

Title: When the Church Becomes Your Party: Contemporary Gospel Music (African American Life)

Author: Deborah Smith Pollard

Publisher: Wayne State University Press

Format:  Book (240 p.)

ISBN: 0814332188

Date: 2008

If gospel means “good tidings and good news,” then gospel music should definitely engage us in spiritual celebration of the good news. Agreeing with this premise, Deborah Smith Pollard’s book on contemporary gospel music, When the Church Becomes Your Party, maintains that you should celebrate the church through the gospel music tradition as reflected in a phrase adapted from a popular secular refrain, “Ain’t no party like a Holy Ghost party. . .” (viii). Ethnographer Deborah Smith Pollard, also a professor of African American Studies, articulates varied dimensions of gospel music in a well-documented study using data reflecting her scholarly background and her experience as a gospel announcer for a popular Detroit radio station.

Here is an interview with “Dr. Deb” Pollard about her gospel radio show on WJLB:


Consistent with its celebratory theme and nature, Pollard’s book, using a lively format, details the joyous contributions of gospel music through interviews with well-known gospel artists, musicians, and preachers, most of whom have longstanding ties to the gospel music scene in Detroit. Indeed, an array of talented gospel families who hail from Detroit have helped catapult it into the national gospel music spotlight: the list includes artists such as, the Rev. C.L. Franklin and daughter Aretha; the Clark Sisters; the Winans; Rance Allen and relatives; the Hawkins family, along with individual artists like the well-known Donnie McClurkin.

Pollard helps to foster an understanding and appreciation of praise and worship music by explaining its origins and challenging the prevailing claim that it has replaced the traditional hymns and the conventional devotional services of the church. Additionally, she examines other musical traditions within gospel, particularly gospel music stage plays, underappreciated dramatic celebrations rooted in African American folk culture. Pollard brings the culture surrounding gospel music into the twenty-first century by discussing the appropriateness of dressing up or down for gospel events by considering the changing dress codes for gospel musicians, audience members at gospel concerts, and churchgoing women. More importantly, she underscores the significant, but often overlooked contributions of women gospel announcers whose work provides an inspirational and empowering spiritual outlet for their listeners. Finally, the book restores the skillful sermonic deliveries of contemporary Holy Hip Hop artists to a respectful place within an oral tradition that harkens back to African griots.

When the Church Becomes Your Party, aimed at both scholars and laypersons, helps to unlock the many layers that comprise the phenomenon of gospel music and the industry responsible for producing it.

Reviewed by Lena Ampadu, Director, African and African American Studies Program, Towson University.