Ever hear the song “Travelin’ Up” by the Singinaires? Probably not. The recording, along with some 5,000 others, is part of an effort to preserve early Black Gospel Music, based out of Baylor University and as you can now hear some of these songs at the Smithsonian’s Museum for African American History and culture – which opens this weekend.
Bob Darden grew up listening to songs like “Great Get’n Up Morning by D.C. Christian Harmonizers.
For years, Darden wrote about gospel music for Billboard Magazine, before becoming a professor at Baylor University. In 2004, he wrote “People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel”, a comprehensive look at gospel music, which he says has largely gone undocumented.
But for Darden and other gospel fans, something big was still missing.
“After finishing the book I would be writing about these songs that were the foundation of all American popular music and I couldn’t hear them,” Darden said. “I would go on Amazon, I would go on eBay, and I couldn’t find copies of these songs to listen to.”
That frustration led Darden to pen an op-ed to the New York Times, where he bemoaned the lack of gospel preservation, saying the loss of this music wasn’t just a “cultural disaster” it was a sin. The next day Darden received a call from New York City investor Charles Royce. Royce said he’d write a check to help establish a gospel music preservation effort. Within a couple years, Darden and Baylor University libraries set up the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project.
“That is now the world’s largest initiative to identify, acquire, digitize, and catalog gospel music,” Darden said.
To date, he estimates the project has digitally preserved some 5 to 6,000 gospel records. That work got the attention of the Smithsonian. They were interested in using parts of the collection for its National Museum of African American History and Culture. Eric Ames is the curator of digital collections at Baylor. He says the songs will be presented with other styles of music on a touch screen where visitors can play different songs.