Gospel Music | St. Louis Public Radio

Gospel Music

Members of IN UNISON Chorus rehearse for a recent concert. Charter member Gwendolyn Wesley is seen, bottom center.  2/28/19
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Symphony formed IN UNISON Chorus for a 1994 concert meant to help bridge the black church and the overwhelmingly white world of classical music. Twenty-five years later, the chorus is still singing. Each season it plays two concerts at Powell Hall with the orchestra, plus one a cappella performance and occasional guest appearances, like at the annual season-opening concert at Forest Park.

The chorus specializes in music by African-Americans, from 19th-century spirituals arranged for 120-voice chorus to contemporary gospel and pieces by black composers. The melding of black-American and European classical styles is heard vividly in the finale of the chorus’s February concert, the pathbreaking “Gospel Mass” by IN UNISON’s founding director, Robert Ray.

IN UNISON Chorus rehearsing at Powell Hall. Charter member Gwendolyn Wesley, lower left. 2/22/19
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

As St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians file into the Powell Hall stage door facing Delmar Boulevard, they’re striding along the boundary that divides a segregated city.

With IN UNISON Chorus, orchestra leaders made an effort in 1994 to bridge that divide and welcome more African-Americans into the predominantly white world of European classical music.

The St. Louis Symphony appears to be the only American orchestra to maintain a second full-sized chorus dedicated to music by African-American and African composers. Its members largely come from about three dozen black churches in and around St. Louis, where SLSO orchestra members also perform recitals throughout the year.

Texas Room recording Session
Provided by Jarred Gastriech

Last year local musician Louis Wall decided to record and produce an album pairing St. Louis-born with immigrant musicians. At the time, he didn’t know it would expand to include roughly 50 people from 15 countries across five continents. Wall says the key to making an album with that many contributors is keeping it accessible to everyone.

“I mean, this is probably just pop music 101, but it’s having people relate to many broad things,” he said.

Black Lives Matter activists release album with a message

Jan 27, 2016
Rev. Osagyefo Sekou and Jay-Marie Hill pose for a portrait. The two wrote 11 songs together in six days just days after meeting at a demonstration.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The pulpit, streets full of protesters and a recording studio don’t have much in common.  But for the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, these three environments offer the chance to spread a gospel of equality.

“What are the ways that we’re going to wrestle with saving the democracy? Music can do that; the pulpit can do that; and engaging in the rich tradition of civil disobedience can do that,” said Sekou.

Funk Fest in St. Louis turns into blues along Broadway

Sep 17, 2015
Marquise Knox at the Reykjavik Blues Festival in 2011
Olikristinn | Wikipedia

When the funk comes to St. Louis, it sounds a lot like the blues. The city is known for blues and jazz, not the classic funk sounds of James Brown and George Clinton. Art Dwyer plays with the Soulard Blues Band and says funk isn’t easily defined. For him funk is a visceral reaction.

Davie Lee
Provided by the family

Davie White’s father thought his son was a conscientious student who liked rising early to get ready for school. Often, Davie would be up and half-dressed when his father awoke. Andrew White didn’t realize that he was catching his son undressing for bed after a nightclub gig.

“He would sneak out and would just be coming in,” laughed his wife, Lou White. “So, he would have to get dressed again and go to school without any sleep.”

Adam Bielawski / via Wikimedia Commons

Despite a musical career that has spanned decades and provided inspiration for the civil rights movement, until recently the only information available about the Staple Singers was from interviews, articles and songs.

A new biography by Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot changes all that by providing the back story of the musical family in book form for the first time. With a nod to two hit songs, the book is titled “I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March Up Freedom’s Highway.”

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 19, 2012 - The word Gospel is a reference, of course, to the story of Jesus of Nazareth, but the word literally means “good news.”

After facing the tragic reality of Newtown, Conn., good news seems in short supply in a season known for its glad tidings. So the St. Louis Symphony’s Gospel Christmas concert could not be a more fitting and beautiful way to mark 2012’s holiday season.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 29, 2012 - The rich musical heritage of the St. Louis area in jazz, blues, rock and R&B has been documented often. From Miles Davis and David Sanborn, from Henry Townsend to Marquise Knox, from Chuck Berry to Wilco and Ike and Tina Turner to Nelly, those musical styles have been a major influence on the national and international music scene for generations.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 4, 2010 - St. Louis is known internationally for its contributions to jazz tradition through renowned artists such as Miles Davis, Clark Terry, David Sanborn, Oliver Lake, Lester Bowie and a host of other players.

But St. Louis has a strong tradition in gospel music as well. Anyone who has seen the amazing 1982 film documentary, "Say Amen Somebody," can certainly testify that St. Louis area gospel greats in the film such as Willie Mae Ford Smith and the O'Neal Twins have made a major contribution to gospel music tradition. And that doesn't count the great Martha Bass Peaston, a St. Louis gospel singer, whose daughter, Fontella Bass, and son David Peaston, both went on achieve international fame.