Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Rev. Jasper Williams - I'm Black and I'm Proud

I don't know how many white atheists regularly listen to recorded sermons by black preachers, but I know at least one other person besides me who fits that description. African-American preachers made the church sermon performance art - the best preachers create an intense, emotional world which sucks the listener (or churchgoer) in, like a great actor or musician.

I also don't know why I'm proud of the fact that many of the best recording preachers were from Atlanta, but I kind of am. The great Rev. J.M. Gates recorded three-minute snippets of his sermons from the 1920s until the 40s. In the 1960s, Rev. Johnny "Hurricane" Jones and Rev. Jasper Williams (of Salem Baptist Church) put down many of their sermons on LP. Both Jones and Williams (and many other black preachers) used pop-culture references to get their point across. Rev. Williams based this sermon on both Luke, chapter 23, verse 26 and the James Brown song "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." He weaves together the stories of Simon of Cyrene (an ancient city in north Africa), who carried the cross of Jesus, George Washington Carver, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other proud black men and women. The arc of this 32-minute sermon is amazing. He begins very calmly, and builds the intensity gradually, like a John Coltrane solo, until the 30-minute mark. Then he backs off and lets the audience/congregation breath again as he winds down. You can hear this remarkable performance here.

By the way, the odd white strip down the right side of the picture above is not the result of sloppy cropping. It's on my album, for whatever reason.

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