A Texas professor is doing everything possible to prevent a piece of black history from vanishing. Have you heard of “Heaven 11”? It’s a major effort to preserve African American gospel music.
Whether with words or without music is powerful. When it comes to gospel music specifically, many say it isn’t only a melody but a strong, moving message. It’s music ministering to those within earshot. ”It evokes an emotion. It evokes something to happen to you . Sometimes you don’t even know but it comes from within,” explains The Fort Bend Church Director of Music Ministry Keith Eason.
“Gospel music is so much a part of who I am. It’s just in my bones. I’ve been singing since I was 6 years old. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in my world. If I put on some gospel music and play it in my house, in my car it just makes everything alright,” smiles long time gospel singer Andrea Baty but is some of the best of God’s music in jeopardy of going away?
Baylor University Professor Robert Darden is the head of Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. The group is acquiring and cataloging what they call “at-risk” African American gospel music from the 1940’s to the 1980’s. Professor Darden also came up with "Heaven 11”, a list of what he believes is the eleven most influential black gospel songs of all time.
"I thought the list of 11 songs was very good. It was encompassing but there's are so many things that could have been added, Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace. That was one of the biggest sellers of all times, made in 1972,” Eason explains. Some of the eleven songs on the list include Movin' On Up A Little Higher, Oh Happy Day, Kirk Franklin’s The Reason Why We Sing, Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready, We Shall Overcome and Mary, Don’t You Weep. The list also explains a little something about each chosen song such as how Thomas Dorsey wrote Take My Hand, Precious Lord after losing his wife during child birth and his baby a day later.
“Great songs are on the list but I would definitely add some though,” says Houstonian Chinita Smith who proves there's power in gospel music without ever hearing one word of it. She types out the lyrics to a different gospel song daily on Facebook.
“God gives us gifts. My gift is to encourage. So I continue to post the songs and without fail if I miss a day I’ll get an inbox message or post to my page, ‘Where is the song of the day?’ Smith explains. “Gospel music is important to me because it is the underlying factor of getting me through, getting me through a difficult time, getting me through happy times,” Smith adds.
”Gospel music means the good news. Right now with everything going on good news is what everybody needs to hear. I need to hear good news on a daily basis,” smiles Eason.
“I just think it’s really important to understand the beauty and love of Christ and if you don’t know him you should get to know him,” says Smith.
Perhaps you’ll do that by exploring “Heaven 11”. Find the complete list on my Facebook page @DamaliKeithFox26.