April 9, 2003


With God on Our Side: Today's Pop-Gospel Albums Affirm the Persistence of Faith Through Adversity (Carol Cooper, April 4th, 2003, Village Voice)
Much the way there are no atheists in foxholes, you'll find even fewer unbelievers in Black America. Constant danger, risible ironies, and ontological uncertainty remain spirituality's best friend. An index of our particular attachment to Judeo-Christian beliefs can be found in the music we make based on the tenets and parables provided by the Old and New Testaments. Black Americans claim and transform Judeo-Christian traditions as if they had never been used to justify American chattel slavery. We continue to rework these traditions in our own image because geopolitical history shows us key Biblical events taking place comparatively "close to home" in parts of Asia and Africa. And contrary to vintage white Anglo-Saxon Protestant propaganda, Africans didn't need to be enslaved by WASPs (or Catholics!) to have access to monotheism and the good news of Christ. Not when Christian, Muslim, and Jewish converts were wandering the Mother Continent long before European slavers got there. Not when the Apostle Mark wrote down the first of the four transcribed Gospels while establishing the Christian church in Egypt 15 years after the Crucifixion.

So we skeptics needn't begrudge Black America its Judeo-Christian obsessions, especially when they yield such delights as the following five gospel albums. The first thing you'll notice is that each record incorporates a regional flavor. Chicago's status as the "golden era" gospel stronghold is the stepping-off point for the praise and worship team known as Shekinah Glory Ministry. The sophisticated swing of New York session players pervades the black Israelite choir Voices of Shalom. Aaron Neville steeps his eclectic selection of folk hymns and pop-rock spirituals in the multiethnic sensuality of New Orleans. Detroit-bred evangelist Dorinda Cole-Clark does justice to her hometown legacy of Aretha Franklin, Motown, and the Clark Conservatory of Music with soulful solo testimony. Meanwhile, Kirk Franklin survives being sued by members of the Family—his first big crossover choir—to dance and shout like a Texan tent-revival leader through an ambitious autobiographical recording so rich in stylistic diversity it should have been titled "Songs in the Key of God." All five albums exist largely to affirm the persistence of faith through adversity . . . which is actually the main characteristic they have in common.

Which is worse: to pretend, during a time of war no less, that being black in America is like being in a "foxhole"; or, to maintain the delusion that the Egyptians were black? Posted by Orrin Judd at April 9, 2003 7:57 AM

How about I adopt the mantra of cultural relativism, and suggest the two are equally bad. :)

Posted by: Kevin Whited at April 9, 2003 10:52 AM

If the antecedent is false (there are no atheists in foxholes
) then what can one say about the consequent?

Posted by: Regards, Jeff Guinn at April 9, 2003 11:11 AM

Hey Jeff:

AOG bought me the Hrdy book--review soonest...

Thanks again, AOG

Posted by: oj at April 9, 2003 11:43 AM


I very much look forward to the review--I wouldn't be surprised to learn as much from it as I did the book itself.

Posted by: Regards, Jeff Guinn at April 10, 2003 11:51 AM