August 29, 2019
My good friend Shannon loved the song “Son Of A Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield.
I told her that I’m the son of a preacher woman (Church of God in Christ, or “COGIC”), which apparently is/was pretty rare in genuine Christian institutions – female pastors. Shannon got a chuckle out of that fact since we smoked weed and drank together all the time in the early 2000s.
Generation X kids know how it is – many of us were forced to go to church every Sunday. Some of us also had to go to church on Wednesdays and even Sunday School before church. Church was so normal that there was even the sitcom “Amen” that ran from 1986 to 1991.
I was born and raised in Marshalltown, Iowa and remember so many names from the churches I went to as a prepubescent child: Reverend Delbert Grimm, Reverend Willie Burchfield (and his daughters Sonya and Eisha [sp?]), Reverend Emmanuel Yeboah (sp?…the dude from somewhere in Africa), Miss Morrow of Morrow Methodist Church in Marshalltown, etc.
My dad was never really into church and religion, which gave me a balanced perspective since my mom was deeply religious. I personally thought church was boring and monotonous. We would get there at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings, and I’d count down the minutes until noon or whatever until it was over. It was a little different when we started driving 40 miles to Des Moines and going to the church on East 17th Street and University. Today I believe it is called the University Church of God In Christ or the East 17th Street Church of God In Christ. The photo in the Google link herein looks exactly like what I remember 30+ years ago.
My mom is no longer here on Earth. My dad is not here either. It makes me both smile and cry to reminisce about old church songs I hated back in the day. But I love many of these songs now because they remind me of my mom, dad and family before the divorce in 1987. My friends and colleagues know that I view Christianity as a weapon of war and imperialism, that Europeans used to destroy the ancestors. But Christianity and God also became necessary evils that has kept diaspora Afrikans in the USA (“black people”) sane and hopeful through 400 years and counting of rape, torture, genocide and mass manipulation.
It’s not surprising that God is bad and out-of-style in mainstream media and Hollywood in the 21st century. Liberals hate God because they want mass homophilia, while conservatives believe Donald Trump is Jesus. God once represented unity and normalcy for black people in the USA, and represented a bond (real or otherwise) between black and white Christians. My mom and I had many conversations about this when she was still here. I miss those conversations so much.
That all said, here are the five most awesome gospel songs that I remember from childhood.
#5 – God Is Trying To Tell You Something
This one would have been higher. But its from a movie, albeit a classic, award-winning and disturbing to me as a child movie – “The Color Purple.” The composer of the song, Andraé Crouch, is a legendary gospel singer. He comes up again in my countdown.
There’s no way you can listen to this song and not feel spiritually uplifted. The organ at 1:08 in the above video is absolutely dope. Whoever the organist is, you are the MAN or WOMAN. The star power in this movie is also second-to-none, as you’ll probably notice. This is one of those “I love being black” songs.
#4 – Take Me Back
This is another Andraé Crouch song. My mom played this one on many Sunday mornings when I was a kid.
#3 – Oh, Happy Day
Edwin Hawkins was born and raised in Oakland, California during the time of the Black Panther Party of Self-Defense. He died on January 15, 2018.
This song is weird to me because it also reminds me of my parent’s divorce, which to this day, is one of the most traumatic events of my life. My experience entailed moving back and forth to their separate homes in two different Iowa towns. I once ended up with my dad, his new girlfriend and her kids for a year. I hated them all, of course, as I was a damaged eighth-grader experiencing divorce and the destruction of my family and identity. But my dad’s girlfriend’s oldest daughter and I bonded after she mockingly started singing “Oh, Happy Day” one day and I joined her. We both knew the lyrics by heart. It was another example of black people who didn’t know each other at all bonding over a universal black hymn.
#2 – He’s Coming Back
The harmony is perfect and this is the version I remember as a child. So this must be the original song.
#1 – The Holy Ghost
This song is great because I remember so vividly, my big brother being so visibly annoyed (which made me chuckle) because mom made him sing this one for our church choir in the mid-1980s. I’m kind of glad my brother was older than I was, because his voice deepened before mine, and the singer in our choir needed a deeper voice. Every Generation X black American has heard something about “the Holy Ghost” in their lifetimes, from their parents or grandparents.
The best version I can find online is by the COGIC Auxillaries in Ministry (AIM) International Choir.
The first time I saw someone “get the Holy Ghost” was when I was around 9-years-old in Des Moines. Quite the experience as it was my first realization and appreciation of black expression outside of my family, and after being born and raised in an all-white town. There are also many versions of this song. My mom’s close friend Fay used to sing this as “Jesus came into my room and he washed my sins away,” versus “Jesus came and he touched me, and he washed my sins away” as it is in most of the videos today.
In sum, I wish black churches empowered and encouraged black families more in 2019. I have no respect for the Creflo Dollar and Al Sharpton type grifters who take advantage of black people for personal gain. But the truth is that gospel, Christianity and God have helped us get through what is Hell on Earth – from the year 1500 to present.
My good friend Todd and I always joke about the fact that we became friends in 1989-90, and years later, my mom and his dad got married. We were “step-brothers,” which still makes me laugh today. But my mom and Aaron Sr. were both parts of the church and that’s what brought them together. Black families had always been about the church, mom and dad, and education. It isn’t like that anymore and it’s quite deflating to experience the state of Black America in 2019 with no unifying principles at all.
Gospel music in the 1980s wasn’t as cool as Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, The Cosby Show, Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy and other black cultural stuff that gave Gen X kids an identity. But there’s no denying the fact that groovy gospel music bonded all of us and is now sorely lacking in an increasingly diminished black USA and obsequious America in general.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2