Gospel Music

What happened is this. The television was blaring, the dogs were sleeping, and I was sitting in front of my computer staring out the window. The computer screen glowered.

Life has returned me to my foundations…and still, many times from foreign places. In faraway places, I am reminded of home. I notice that mostly, our differences are only similarities.

I require these distractions because, as a divorced mother, I spent many years and evenings writing articles while in the background my children watched television or took down the house in their music. I learned to write surrounded with noise and distractions. Yet, hours can go by without noticing what is on the television or the noise.

Each month, as deadlines approach, I am forced to think, to give thought almost every hour of each disappearing day for a column topic. In the in-between times, when the column is finished, I have been known not to think at all.

Focusing on one subject from the depths of this dense mind is like running a monthly marathon. And as my friends know, I would never run — unless I am being chased. One this late evening, I couldn’t write two agreeable paragraphs. I was stuck like a bug on a strip of flypaper.

Out of my eye, I caught the flash of golden robes as the members of the choir filed into place. They began to sing from the television screen.

“I’m gonna put on my long white robe, down by the riverside, down by the riverside, down by the riverside. Gonna study war no more.”

I stopped typing. Leaned on my elbows. They were calling to me. I turned my attention to the screen thinking. “I have to stop thinking and pay attention now. This is where God enters.”

Gospel music speaks to my soul, like pinto beans, potato salad, and fried chicken. It is deep in my roots like spring wisteria, gathering at harvest time; and Carolina red dirt.

Gospel Music is the sound of the world when I was a child and the faith I was taught while sitting between my parents, Richard Franklin and Josephine Link Rozzelle. I learned the Golden Rule in my youth to the sounds of music.

There are so many things Southern that were so wrong. Yet, there are things Southern that are so right that they should not be forgotten or overlooked. Even though, our region is stained with a bloody history. It is not just a place of bad and ungodly history. Maybe this history is what drives southerners to study humanity very closely.

In the south, we were once born to the dirt for our existence. We are told stories lying in the crib, standing in line, and at funerals. We love to sing to tell stories, and to laugh, most times, at ourselves.

As I listened to the televised choir, I recalled the time I first spoke in public. I was to give the eulogy at the funeral of a dear beloved friend, Janie McGee Clemons. I was scared to death. No, I was terrified. It has been many years past since I have answered a question out loud — in a classroom.

As I took a seat, I noticed to my horror that the only microphone was on the podium where the minister was speaking. He stood in front of the choir. All, the way down that long aisle; I was praying to do well. However, I never expected such a heavenly response.

As I began to speak, I heard the most heavenly melodies of softly sung encouragement. “Amen.” “Hallelujah.” “Praise the Lord,” “Oh, Yeah, oh Yea-ah,” My back-up choir were robed angels and I am eternally grateful.

These voices singing encouragement were to me the same as a dying man discovering water in the desert. I was home. Ever since then, when someone tells me they are nervous about a speech I tell them to make sure they have a gospel choir singing back up.

In September, I attended a “Charlotte Shout” event at the House of Prayer for All People on Beatties Ford Road. I attended to hear the music. And, I was not disappointed. As the evening progressed, I slipped off my shoes and got comfortable. It didn’t matter whether or not I knew the words. I mouthed the words I didn’t know while waiting on the repetitive chorus.

The evening began with the deep call of the tuba blowing a circle of sound, pure energy; primal energy vibrating loud enough to call souls to attention. This was an evening so alive; so innocent; so real you could feel and taste the truth of life. I heard the echoes of the first hallelujahs. These sounds are found in the sounds of awe; and found, still, found in the songs of all World religions. It is the Eternal, the mystical.

I have heard this music in three places: the black churches I attended in my youth; harvest-time church services at the old clap-board church in Shuffletown when it was an outpost of civilization; and, of course, on the streets of New Orleans. It is music so alive that it encourages you to ask your neighbor to “loan you a tambourine?” If you are ever looking for God, listen to a good old time gospel choir and you will find your way. God lives in music.

I am Southern, a Southern rural-born Redneck child, and, I believe that God resides within music. God resides in this perfection. Music can keep us together long enough to see there is only spirit, faith, and bone.

Life has returned me to my foundations…and still, many times from foreign places. In faraway places, I am reminded of home. I notice that mostly, our differences are only similarities.

I do love my roots, the faith and teachings given to me by my Southern heritage, my parents, grandparents, and ancestors. Southern Rednecks, River Rats, and Revolutionaries, the ones I grew up and knew and knew of — did a few good things. With the exceptions of the well-known, usual suspects: of sinners, serial murderers, angels, saints, odd and regular folks, they did a pretty job, the people I grew up with tried. God knows they tried. Despite the wooly mammoth of history that sits silently with us. The people I speak of mean only to be kind.

Like Aretha, I want to put a little respect back into the word, Southern. It is the Celt in me. I am going to do it by telling the stories of Rednecks, and River Rats because they are the sons and daughters of the Revolutionary soldiers who turned the tide of the American Revolution at the Battle Kings Mountain. Good people who should be recalled and stories that should not to be forgotten.

I hear their words in treble, soprano, and bass. This music of the south defines me. And, I honestly believe that if we look closely at the South, we will not see what we expect. We will see similarities. To write of the South is the plight and passion of a Southern writer, it is shared by storytellers and their audience….going back to times when camels trod across deserts carrying spices.

This November when we stand before the Thanksgiving dinner table, joined by neighbors and friends, new and old. As we pray for peace and understanding, join me in giving thanks for being born a southern in this Great American Nation.

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