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SHOUT! Black Gospel Music Moments - The Violinaires

You’ve never heard Bob Dylan’s masterful “I Shall Be Released” until you’ve heard it sung by Robert Blair and the Violinaires of Chicago.

The Violinaires were founded in Detroit in 1952 but didn’t really hit their stride until high tenor Robert Blair joined in the early ‘60s. The group has had its share of top flight singers through the years, including Wilson Pickett and Willie Blair. They’ve also recorded for a variety of gospel labels, including this wonderful album for Checker from 1970, At His Command.

Along with its sister label Chess, Checker was best known as the top blues and R&B label in the country in the 1960s. Which meant when it came time to record, the Violinaires had one of the top studio groups in Chicago behind them. Among the 12 stand out tracks is my all-time favorite version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” featuring Blair’s soaring and dramatic falsetto.

MUSIC: (2416) The Violinaires, At His Command, LP, “I Shall Be Released,” Side 2, Track 3 (April 21, 2024)

2416 Violinaires - I Shall Be Released 44100 1.wav

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).