Group striving to revive gospel music
By Anthony Kadarrell Thigpen Post-Tribune correspondent August 9, 2013 2:16PM
Pharis Evans Jr. stirs a crowd of nearly 700 worshippers while singing an array of songs featured on the “Saints with a Vision” new CD. | Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen for the Post-Tribune/SunTimes Media
Updated: September 12, 2013 6:31AM
African-American churchgoers have a history rooted in traditional gospel music, and Pharis Evans Jr. is breathing life into the fading legacy, despite changing times.
As CEO of Fountain of Life record label, Evans, along with his 35-voice choir, Saints With a Vision, recently released the group’s second CD, titled “Saints Alive.”
The project consists of 18 traditional songs, including “It’s in the Praise” sung by Gary’s own Loretta Hearne-Thames, intended to revive life into gospel music.
Other artists like Davie Moore, Robin Covington, Janice Clarke-Dorsey and Faye Brewer sang soulfully to the crowd of nearly 700 worshippers.
“We emerged,” Evans said. “We had a lot of molding and transformation that needed to talk place.”
The group formed in May 1998, Evans explained. Their debut CD features a gospel hit, “I Wanna Say Thank You,” that continues to gain airtime on radio stations nationwide.
Now, the group is wading through the trenches of the community supporting two not-for-profits, “Uncle Bernie’s Kidz,” and “Young Gentlemen’s Society.”
“We provide financial help to kids whose parents are incarcerated,” Evans said. “We’re not just putting out records and singing songs.”
They also provide mentoring for young boys.
It has been 15 years since SWV released an album, but they continued spreading hope.
With a team of songs writers like Evans, Maulty Jewell IV, Eddie Howard, and Larry Roberts Sr., SWV is scripting inspirational lyrics to inspire listeners through the legacy of traditional gospel.
The heritage of gospel music has a long history in predominantly black churches.
Songs like, “Take my hand, precious Lord,” and “Peace in the Valley” are a couple of the most popular gospel songs of all times.
The late Thomas Dorsey, who created the genre of gospel music, wrote them.
In the 1930s, Dorsey introduced modified rhythms, reflective vocal lines, and other blues components into religious songs.
More than 80 years ago, many churchgoers cringed at the birth of this blues-infused genre of music called traditional gospel.
Now, many churchgoers squirm at the timeworn sound for a different reason.
According to the Rev. Mark Frazier, pastor of New Star Light Missionary Baptist Church, traditional gospel does not appeal to young people.
“You have to be willing to change or you won’t survive,” he said. “We have to mix it up.”
Frazier says churches today have to include genres like praise and worship, hymns, contemporary, quartet and traditional gospel.
Evans said he understands the importance of mixing up sounds to draw crowds ranging in different ages.
According to Fountain of Life manager Nicole Evans, the record label produces all genres of gospel music — even a nearly 75-voice teen choir called “Young Saints.”
“Every concert we have draws a crowd,” she said. “It’s a positive thing.”
She says more than 500 copies of the “Saints Alive” CD sold while the choir was still singing during the release celebration.
“Music sets the tone in churches,” said nationally recognized songwriter and supporter Tony Tidwell. “When you bring all sorts of music into the church it make it difficult for people to get delivered.”
He says the choice of lyrics and the style of music are equally important.
The revival of traditional gospel is no easy resuscitation, but “Saints Alive” is the CD project Evans says he plans to infuse into churches throughout America.