The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ album Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord was a constant in the house when I was growing up. Best known for the catchy single “Oh Happy Day,” a gospel arrangement of an 18th-century hymn, the song reached No. 4 on the Billboard pop chart, No. 2 on the R&B chart, and eventually, in 1970, it won a Grammy for best soul gospel performance. An unusual pop hit, yes, but we’re talking about the ’70s. The whole decade hit different.
It fit right in with a record collection from parents who could listen to a wide spectrum of stories, ideas, and sounds. The connective string: Humanity. So The Commodores and some Bobby Womack on blast Friday night, Saturday brings Dylan, Buffy Saint Marie, Stevie (Wonder), CSNY, Chaka Khan, Neil Young, and Betty Carter, then some Rolling Stones and A Taste of Honey for the evening. Close out the weekend on Sunday with Black Brown and Beige by Duke and Ella. The vibe remained wide, people. Just like Black radio in those days, I digress.
But if the Edwin Hawkins singers came on, it meant it was either an “Oh Happy Day” or someone messed up. Mom needed to pray on it. (This story, by the way, does check out and is approved. Thanks, Mom!) We are talking husband, son, Uncle, or Uncles–depending on the weekend and who was visiting by way of Greyhound from New York City next-door neighbor attempting to run electricity through his house from our front porch electrical outlets, dog, cat… Someone or a certain pet (Diamond the dog or Stacey the cat) needed to thank those Edwin Hawkins singers for literally bringing peace and clarity into whatever situation was afoot.
Seriously though, I wholeheartedly believe we could mend the planet via bottling the salve found in collective black voices performing in a choir setting. Those tones, frequencies, bearing witness—shouting to and for perseverance through the spirit manifested in voice. If that technology is here, right now, and about to disrupt? Go flush out your bitcoin pipedreams with its decentralized digital currency fluctuations. And invest in the spirit. It’s been around forever.
Those goosebumps—of the good kind—gets your heartbeat elevated with the organ, piano, and bass combo working intro on the modification of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Spirits Up Above”. It’s the second song on Los Angeles community choir Jimetta Rose and The Voices of Creation’s debut release How Good It Is. The chorus, sung collectively—can you feel the spirits up above–is rhetorical. When this choir, the members of which display nothing amateur in their performance, sings in unison, it’s a rolling bluesy type of gospel that just bulldozes. That repetition, casting a bijou trance? Religious or not, it stirs us all.
Just give a look at the cover art for the release, framed in shells, a collection of hands, one bearing a tambourine, reaching up in unison, acknowledging this high power. It’s an image devoid of ego which delivers the sentiment. Yes, it is Rose, a vocalist, songwriter, arranger, producer, and substantial connective tissue of the Los Angeles music scene, whose name comes first. But as explained in the press she put together a multigenerational community-based choir of mostly non-professional singers, backed by some of the city’s best musicians. After being very low, enduring hardship, and writing with a purpose. Even she sought collective voices y’all. Get it?
Produced by Mario Caldato Jr., nicknamed The Maestro by Beastie Boys, and his wife Samantha Caldato, they recorded, “this new black classical music” according to Rose, within the walls of a church in East Pasadena. Over six songs that traverse through astral jazz and Sunday morning Word of God, it’s purposely scattered amongst all the hues: R&B, soul, and the undefined. This dynamism of plurality gets shot through the optimum amalgam of Blackness ever put to record by reworking Funkadelic’s magnum opus “Cosmic Slop” into the ultimate flip of meanings on “Answer The Call.” Worthy of a live performance at a 2022 version of Wattstax of Harlem Cultural Festival. Keep singing Voices of Creation, they, he or she, will build the event.
Label: Day Dreamer
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to Treble since 2018. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in The Wire, 48 Hills, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK and Drowned In Sound.