Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lucie E. Campbell A.K.A. The Mother Of Gospel Music...

Lucie E. Campbell, Gospel Music Visionary
‘Mother Of Gospel Music’ Has Deep Memphis Roots
By George E. Hardin

A street performer, Connie Rosemond, was singing a religious song outside a Beale Street store when several men passing by asked him to sing a blues song. Rosemond refused even after the men offered him money. Lucie E. Campbell witnessed the incident and asked Rosemond why he refused. He told her there was “something within” that would not allow him to sing the blues. From that incident, Campbell was inspired to write the beloved gospel tune “Something Within,” the first of the more than 100 songs she would eventually write. Campbell selected Rosemond to introduce the song in 1919 at the National Baptist Convention and it became a staple of many Black churches:

Something within me that holdeth the reins,
Something within me that banishes pain,
Something within me I cannot explain,
All that I know there is something within.

“Something Within,” and Campbell’s other songs, helped shape the worship style of many black churches. Later her songs were adopted for use in some majority white churches as well. Among her other compositions were “He Understands, He’ll Say Well Done” and “Jesus Gave Me Water,” which became a huge hit for Sam Cooke and was the first time he demonstrated the yodeling that became his trademark.

Campbell became one of the most highly acclaimed of all gospel songwriters. The 45th anniversary of Campbell’s death will be Jan. 3, 2008. Campbell was born in a caboose in Duck Hill, Miss., on April 3, 1885. Her father, Burrell Campbell, was an employee of the Mississippi Central Railroad. He was killed in a train accident shortly after Lucie was born and his wife, Isabella, moved the family to Memphis in search of better opportunities. Campbell became a schoolteacher and trained many young singers. Her work attracted national attention and in 1942, she was invited to the White House Conference on Negro Youth Education.

The best known of her students was J. Robert Bradley. Bradley met Campbell when he and other children were waiting outside Ellis Auditorium for Christmas presents from the Goodfellows, a charitable organization. Bradley joined in the singing of Christmas carols and a police officer, captivated by his voice, went inside where the National Baptist Convention was meeting and brought Campbell out to hear him. Campbell was impressed and became his mentor.

Campbell chose Bradley to introduce her newest compositions and he became the best-known interpreter of her work. With help from Campbell and Baptist leader Dr. A. M. Townsend, Bradley was sent to New York to study voice with the great Wagnerian singer, Edythe Walker. Later he studied classical music in London and performed for the king and queen of England.
Although Memphis is called the “Home of the Blues,” it should be better known for its gospel music. For it was here that Campbell first made her mark as well as the Rev. W. Herbert Brewster, another gospel songwriter, musician Thomas Shelby and singer Queen C. Anderson. Gospel music addresses the concerns and emotions central to the African American experience. The Baptist hymnal “Gospel Pearls,” first published in 1921, is one of the first times the term “gospel” was applied to this music in print. Some other music styles have been introduced, reached a high point and faded, but gospel continues in popularity.

In 1960, Campbell married the Rev. C. R. Williams, a longtime friend. In June 1962, she was scheduled to be honored by the National Baptist Convention for her long service as its music director and was preparing to attend the event when she became ill. She never recovered and died Jan. 3 the following year. Lucie E. Campbell Elementary School is named in her honor.
Bradley, who dealt with the effects of diabetes for many years, died May 3 at age 87 in Nashville.
Campbell drew from her life experiences to connect with her constituents and enlisted music in the service of faith. Gospel music is indigenous to the black struggle and a central component of the African American heritage.

Thomas Dorsey, author of “Precious Lord” and numerous other songs, is often called the “father of gospel music.” Campbell wrote “Something Within” more than a decade before “Precious Lord” was completed and she could rightly be called the “mother of gospel music.”

(George E. Hardin worked as a photographer, reporter and editor and in public relations during a long career before he retired.)

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