Black History Collection: Soul Of The Church (Infinity Entertainment)
In the mid-’60s, some NBC affiliates offered a Sunday morning celebration of music and spirit called TV Gospel Time. Filmed in Chicago, the show featured the kings and queens of black gospel at the time, giving valuable air time to such icons as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ernestine Washington, the Blind Boys of Mississippi and James Cleveland, as well as community church choirs from around the Midwest. Unfortunately for gospel fans and scholars, episodes of this show were fairly hard to come by, usually found only on bootleg videocasettes or what clips were available on YouTube.
While Infinity Entertainment have saddled this program with a completely different name for its first legitimate DVD release, all thanks and praise must be sent their way for finally giving these programs a chance at reaching a wider audience. The unfettered performances found on this two-disc set are positively soul-stirring, simply because they feature no overdubs. So, every flubbed note, off beat clap and rough patch are left out in the open. But the spirit they put behind every note – even the ones that are wrong – puts the sanitized sound of contemporary Christian music to withering shame.
Of particular note on this set are the compilations of Mahalia Jackson performances featured on each disc. These showcases were recorded and filmed in 1961 as “filler” for TV affiliates to fill those few minutes of space that they might end up with between programs (I recall TBS and USA used to do this a fair amount in the late ’80s/early ’90s using music videos). They are hardly filler, though. Instead they are the proper spotlight performances for the peerless Jackson, and give her legions of fans a chance to see – in awe-inspiring detail – the sweat and intensity that poured out of her every performance.
Its unfortunate that Infinity didn’t have more time to invest in remastering both the picture and sound of these old kinescopes. The color balance of the black & white images goes way too dark on many of the programs and the overlay of white noise that accompanies each audio track can be a little distracting if you pay too close attention to it. But considering what vital documents these are of the pure spirit of gospel music as it was meant to be sung and performed, you’ll be happy simply to have these to revisit over and over again.