Robert Darden

Host of Shout! Black Gospel Music Moments

 

Robert F. Darden is the author of two dozen books, most recently: Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume II: Black Sacred Music from Sit-In to Resurrection City (Penn State University Press, 2016); Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume I: Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement(Penn State University Press, 2014); Jesus Laughed: The Redemptive Power of Humor(Abingdon Press, 2008), Reluctant Prophets and Clueless Disciples: Understanding the Bible by Telling Its Stories(Abingdon Press, 2006); and People Get Ready! A New History of Black Gospel Music(Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2004).

He is the founder of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project at Baylor University, the world’s largest initiative to identify, acquire, digitize, categorize and eventually make accessible fast-vanishing vinyl of gospel music from gospel’s Golden Age (1945-1970). The BGMRP provides the gospel music for the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History & Culture. www.baylor.edu/lib/gospel

At Baylor, Darden has won virtually every major teaching and research award, including The Cornelia Marschall Smith Award as Outstanding Professor (2011); the first Baylor University Diversity Award (2010) and received the honor again in 2017 as the founder and member of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project team; the Outstanding Research Professor, College of Arts & Sciences (2008); Outstanding Teaching Professor, College of Arts & Sciences (2018); and the Baylor Centennial Award (2008).

He is a popular speaker and has been the keynote speaker at a host of seminars, conferences, and stand-alone events at the University Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, the Ralph Bunche Library of the Department of State’s American Author Lecture Series, Princeton University, Yale University, the Texas Book Festival, the Louisiana Book Festival and many others.

Darden’s articles and essays have appeared in publications ranging from The New York Times to the Oxford American. He has been featured in hundreds of radio and television programs, including Fresh Air with Terri Gross(NPR), 1A with Joshua Johnson, All Things Considered(NPR), CSPAN, BBC World Service, BBC Outlook, Austrian Public Broadcasting, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 

He has also been published in The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity, the World Book Encyclopedia, the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress and is a frequent contributor toHuffington Post and Christianity Today Online.

Additionally, Darden spent twenty years as the Senior Editor forThe Wittenburg Door and another fifteen years as Gospel Music Editor forBillboard Magazine. In 2016, he created the radio insert “Shout! Black Gospel Music Moments” for KWBU-FM Waco. Darden researches, writes, and records the weekly show, which (as of July 2019) now appears on a dozen NPR stations, including KERA-FM Dallas.

Darden is married to Dr. Mary Landon Darden, CEO of the education consulting firm Higher Education Innovation, Inc. and the author of Beyond 2020: Envisioning the Future of Universities in America(American Council on Education/Rowman & Littlefield, 2009). The couple live in Waco, Texas, and have three children and four grandchildren. They are active in Seventh & James Baptist Church in Waco.

The popular Skyways, led by W.C. Johnson, toured heavily in the 1960s and '70s as one of the vanguard artists of the new contemporarary gospel sound. 


With mighty voiced Liz Dargan as the lead vocalist, the Gospelettes released a number of memorable singles in the early '70s, including a fiery version of "Lord, You've Been Good to Me."

The Mighty Superiors, known from only a couple of obscure 45s on the Song Bird label, prove that in gospel music an artist doesn't have to be famous to be good. 


With the Gospel Keynotes, Willie Neal Johnson released a string of memorable, soulful LPs for Nashboro and Malaco beginning in the late '70s. 

With the Pentecostal Mass Choir of Chicago, Charles Watkins was a gospel music innovator, bringing new textures, rhythms and instrumentations to gospel music. 


This nifty self-produced live LP features several great gospel songs on the A side and the powerful, expressive sermon The Ball Game of Life on the B side. 

Chicago's Kelly Brothers bounced around gospel music for a while, cutting great songs,  but never catching a break before moving to King Records in 1963 to record the R&B hit "It Won't Be This Way Always" as the Kingpins  - the year before thr King label went out of business. 

Legendary gospel producer,  Rev. Lawrence C Roberts, produced most of the Savoy/ Gospel label's hits during the 1950s and '60s - usually featuring his own backup singers, the multi-talented Lawrence Roberts Singers. 

Bill Moss, son of the legendary Mattie Moss Clark, had a long and successful career in gospel music recording with his wife Essie as Bill Moss and the Celestials. Bill and Essie were also the parents of two current gospel stars, J Moss and Bill Moss, Jr., who have inherited their parent's singing and song-writing gifts. 

Gospel music was known for its great bass singers. Alas, we may never know the name of the bass singer for the Bonnett Harmonizers of Washington D.C. but his bouncy, melodic singing on their lone LP, The Storm is Passing Over, is worth cherishing.


The real star of this hard gospel tune is the funky and fabulous bass-line, which more than matches the lead vocalists of the obscure Spiritual Wonders of Detroit. It's just possible that the bassist is legendary Motown Records bass player and composer James Jamerson, who played on virtually all of Motown's hits. 


The multi-talented Elder Nick Hightower founded the House of God Saints in Christ Churches denomination, was the father of the fabulous Hightower Brothers gospel group, and recorded the excellent It's a Long, Long Way LP with vocalist Sister Massey. 


Some of the best recordings in the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project are those by absolutely unknown artists. As far as we know, this 45 is the only copy of the Messiah Gospel Singers performing “Lord, I Need You.” And yet this ragged, emotional performance strikes a chord that only real, raw gospel music can reach.


During World War II, Leonard De Paur created the De Paur Infantry Chorus, which would bring extraordinary music into the lives of soldiers in both the European and Pacific theaters. After the war, the chorus stayed together and recorded some remarkable albums of spirituals and sacred classical music. This is their rendition of "Deep River." 


During Lou Rawls' stay with the Pilgrim Travelers, he recorded a number of classic gospel songs, including beautiful, jazzy renditions of the classic spirituals. One of the best is this version of "Motherless Child."


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