How Sweet the Sound

Mississippi boy Elvis Presley’s “Ultimate Gospel” album is a favorite in the gospel genre.

Mississippi boy Elvis Presley’s “Ultimate Gospel” album is a favorite in the gospel genre. Photo by Courtesy Solar Music Group

I was raised in a family filled with gospel music and musicians. Daddy sang in the church choir, and Mama played the piano at church (and still does). And while we moaned and groaned and came up with every excuse in the book not to, my older sister Tatia and I were forcefully encouraged to sing in our church choir as teenagers. There were many road trips and Sunday mornings headed to and from church that Daddy would have J.D. Sumner and The Stamps, The Statler Brothers' gospel records or the Happy Goodman Family playing.

My great-grandfather, S.L. Long, was a gospel songwriter, and my second cousin, Glen Calcote, has been writing and arranging gospel music for as long as I can remember. And even my 15-year-old cousin triplets, Embry, Logan and Christian Long, play for churches and revivals in north Mississippi.

For years, I loathed listening to gospel music because, you see, I was way too cool for such noise and, plus, I wanted to be the rocker of the family (a part of me still does.) But, as a now older and more musically appreciative Natalie, I've come to enjoy gospel music not just from the old, faded Cokesbury hymns we sang from years ago, but from all religions. It also fascinates me how others use various forms of music to worship.

In recent years, I've had the opportunity to visit many churches. My "adopted" family, the Fradys and the Waldons, are Church of Christ members, and in their worship they use no musical instruments, yet everyone makes a cheerful noise as if there were a 50-piece band behind them. Many of the churches I visited had enormous choirs and assorted instruments they used instead of the traditional piano and organ. But none of this seemed to affect the joy they received from music being made and played around them.

Two weeks ago I attended the Joel Osteen program held at the Mississippi Coliseum. His "Night of Hope" praise band was amazing--once they had you on your feet, you stayed there. They had many instruments and musicians onstage, and everyone was feeling it. It seemed almost like I was at a rock concert, except the only thing passed around for people to share was a collection plate, and instead of "Freebird," I heard "Amen."

I attended Wells Church (2019 Bailey Ave.) at the early service last Sunday. While quite a few less were in attendance compared to the thousands that were at Joel Osteen's, our small church service attendees felt the same passion, even though we didn't have any roadies, pyrotechnic crew or a whole band playing. It makes me understand the power of music more, now that I'm actually paying attention to it. It's not the genre of music, the band, or sometimes even the artists that make music matter to people--it's the way it makes them feel, inspiring them to do something or to endure whatever sadness they're dealing with in life. And that's music to my ears.

If you get a chance, check out my favorite gospel albums (some are a mixture of gospel and Americana songs):

"Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack (Mercury Records)

The Isaacs—"Stand Still" (Horizon Records)

Johnny Cash—"The Gospel Road" (Columbia Records)

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band—"Will The Circle Be Unbroken" (EMI America)

Elvis Presley—"Elvis: Ultimate Gospel" (Solar Music Group)

Mississippi Mass Choir—"Greatest Hits" (Malaco Records)

Amazing Grace—"A Country Salute to Gospel Vol. 1-3" (Sparrow Records)

The Statler Brothers—"Today's Gospel Favorites" (Heartland)

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