Gospel Music: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Mavis Staples and Ray Charles keep the faith.

Gospel music isn’t just for believers. The fervor of African-American devotional songs played a key role in shaping the sound of secular pop from the ‘50s on, and continues to bestow its blessing of uplift on listeners of all persuasions today.

Mavis Staples
Live in London
ANTI-

A member of the terrific gospel family group The Staple Singers, which flourished from the ‘50s through the ‘70s, Mavis Staples is still going strong today. Recorded last year, Live in London captures the big-voiced singer at her exuberant best, belting out rousing nontraditional material composed by the likes of Talking Heads, Jeff Tweedy, and George Clinton as she offers her own version of a Sunday-morning service. The taut backing band does a stellar job, especially Rick Holmstrom, who uncannily replicates the classic tremolo-drenched guitar of her dad, the late “Pops” Staples, and adds a few exciting ideas of his own. While the phrase “national treasure” is thrown around way too often, Mavis Staples really is one.

Ray Charles
Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volumes 1 and 2
Concord

Ray Charles often gets credit for inventing soul music by bringing a church vibe to profane R’n’B in his landmark hit “I’ve Got a Woman.” By the early ‘60s, he was ready to launch another revolution with Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, performing so-called hillbilly songs in a whole new context. Today, the blending of styles commonly pegged as white and black is considered no big deal, but it was a daring move back then. Not everything on these two 1962 albums, presented on a single disc, has aged particularly well, however. It’s jarring to hear tunes associated with the Everly Brothers (“Bye Bye Love”) and Hank Williams (“Hey, Good Lookin'”) transformed into swingin’, Vegas-friendly epics, complete with brash horns. Much more satisfying are the ballads, including Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” where Charles’ subtle, sublime voice is given free rein.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate