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Mavis Staples on The Staple Singers

Singer Mavis Staples is best known for her part in The Staple Singers. The group will be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 Grammy Awards. We rebroadcast an interview with Staples from June 2, 1989.

20:41

Other segments from the episode on January 17, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 17, 2005: Interview with Mavis Staples; Interview with Jelly Roll Morton; Review of the new box set of sacred music "Goodbye Babylon."

Transcript

DATE January 17, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New box set "Goodbye Babylon" of sacred music from the
late 19th and early 20th centuries
TERRY GROSS, host:

The religious revivals of the 19th century were filled with music, and by the
time the recording industry got going in the 1920s, some of the best of that
music was only a few decades old and got captured on record. Rock historian
Ed Ward reviews "Goodbye Babylon," an impressive anthology of sacred music.

(Soundbite of "Goodbye Babylon")

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Well, goodbye, Babylon...

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Goodbye...

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Babylon...

Unidentified Man #1: Well, goodbye...

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Babylon ...(unintelligible)...

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, goodbye...

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Babylon...

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, goodbye...

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Goodbye, Babylon.

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, goodbye...

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Babylon ...(unintelligible), Babylon
(unintelligible)...

Unidentified Man #1: I looked all around me, 'round me shine...

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) ...(unintelligible), Babylon
(unintelligible)...

Unidentified Man #1: I ...(unintelligible) the Lord...

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible), Babylon
(unintelligible)...

ED WARD reporting:

Late in 2003, a previously unknown Atlanta company called Dust to Digital
released a remarkable set of CDs. Over the course of five discs, it has 134
songs taken from old 78s, arranged by theme. Given the breadth of styles and
the conceptual overview, it brings to mind Harry Smith's classic Folkways
"Anthology of American Folk Music," except for one thing. While Smith covered
every kind of folk music he could find, this set, called "Goodbye Babylon,"
deals only with sacred music. There's even an additional disc, which I admit
I haven't played yet, containing 25 sermons which were also issued on 78s.

`Daunting' is one word to describe it, but I noticed something else as I
played through the set for the second time a few days ago. It's also highly
entertaining. It could scarcely not be. Every kind of American music is
represented, from good-time pop jazz to mountain music to blues to what could
only be called punk.

(Soundbite of "Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down")

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) There ain't no grave gonna hold my body
down. There ain't no grave gonna hold my body down. When I hear that trumpet
sound, gonna get up out of the ground. Oh, there ain't no grave gonna hold my
body down. Well, go down yonder...

WARD: Brother Claude Ely's recording of "Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body
Down" is one of the few postwar recordings on the set, which also contains the
oldest surviving recording of black performers.

(Soundbite of recording)

Unidentified Man #2: "Down on the Old Camp Ground," coon shout by the
Dinwiddie Colored Quartet.

(Soundbite of "Down on the Old Camp Ground")

DINWIDDIE COLORED QUARTET: (Singing) There's a jubilee, there's a jubilee,
there's a jubilee, way down the old campground. There's a jubilee, there's a
jubilee, there's a jubilee way down the old campground.

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) A little white stone came a-rolling down.

DINWIDDIE COLORED QUARTET: (Singing) Way down the old campground.

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) And they rolled like thunder through the
crowd.

DINWIDDIE COLORED QUARTET: (Singing) Way down the old campground.

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) came and

DINWIDDIE COLORED QUARTET: (Singing) Way down the old campground.

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) you're telling lies.

DINWIDDIE COLORED QUARTET: (Singing) Way down the old campground.

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) Oh...

DINWIDDIE COLORED QUARTET: (Singing) There's jubilee, there's a jubilee...

WARD: The Dinwiddie Colored Quartet recorded this in 1902, and you'll notice
that the announcer calls it a coon shout rather than a spiritual. This is
because the last verse has no religious content at all, being the familiar,
`Down in the henhouse on my knees, I thought I heard a chicken sneeze' verse.
Racist? Yes, but one of the few surviving recordings of minstrelsy.

The Dinwiddies may have made their living on the stage, but the majority of
the artists on "Goodbye Babylon" were sacred singers by profession. They
range from the utterly unknown, like Luther Magby--who, the booklet says, is
known only to have made one record and to have died--to the justly celebrated.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MAHALIA JACKSON: (Singing) God's gonna separate the wheat from the chaff,
didn't he say? God's gonna separate the wheat from the chaff, didn't he say?
(Unintelligible) God's gonna separate the wheat from the chaff, didn't he say?
Oh, God's gonna separate the wheat from the chaff, didn't he say?

WARD: A young, jazzy Mahalia Jackson recorded in 1937, decades before she
because famous, is just one of the surprises here. One of the regularly
occurring ones is just how odd some of these records are, from the novelty
instrument played by Washington Phillips to the unearthly sounds of the
otherwise unknown Blind Mamie Forehand.

(Soundbite of music)

BLIND MAMIE FOREHAND: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) Lord is good
(unintelligible). Yeah, well ...(unintelligible).

WARD: That's probably the bell from a hotel front desk keeping time,
incidentally. And if you've never heard sacred harp singing, a ghostly
leftover from the 19th century, there's lots of that here, too.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group #3: (Chanting) ...(Unintelligible).

WARD: No, you didn't understand the lyrics. Sacred harp singers chant the
solfeggio, the do-re-mi syllables of the song, first, then go into the words.

Like the Harry Smith collection, "Goodbye Babylon" is the sound of an era
ending. The Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey makes a couple of appearances here, and
the songs he composed would help usher in a new era after World War II, the
era of gospel music. What's on these five discs in their handsome wooden box
packed with cotton balls is the last American sacred folk music, more or less.
You certainly don't have to be a believer to be entertained and intrigued by
these songs, nor to be thankful that someone put together this collection.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He reviewed the new box set, "Goodbye
Babylon," on the Dust to Digital label. It's nominated for two Grammys.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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