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Gospel Music “Flip Side:” Research Uncovers Secret Civil Rights Messages



February 1, 2011

WACO, Texas - Gospel music of the 1950s and '60s often contained "secret messages" about the civil rights movement – secrets that were literally right under the nose of anyone who purchased a vinyl copy of a song.

That's the finding of Robert Darden, a Baylor University researcher who oversees the school's Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. Darden says he was about a year into cataloging vintage gospel music sent in from all over the country, when he started looking closely at the "B" sides of the older records.

"And here this stuff is, a wonderful spiritual hymn, 'Let's all be good and go see Jesus'; and on the flip side, it says, you know, 'People, we need to rally around Dr. King. This is important.'"

Darden is now focusing on the civil rights songs and messages, many of which are found on records from singers unfamiliar even to gospel experts, and sometimes on record labels that don't exist in any catalogs. He has found lyrics that tell about civil rights marches and demonstrations in Texas and Tennessee, as well as graphic descriptions of violence in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Chicago.

While some radio stations played gospel music at the time, Darden notes they would have only paid attention to the "A" sides of the records. He explains these records were commonly sold in furniture and grocery stores in Black communities throughout the South - where the messages reached their target audiences.

"So on the 'B' sides, they could really indulge what was passionate to them. Every day, I'm just surprised about how straightforward and frank some of the messages are."

The project is being highlighted for February's Black History Month. Darden is looking for other vintage gospel recordings to add to the research. The school's project pays all shipping costs, and returns the recordings along with digitized copies.

Some of the vintage gospel recordings, as well as samples of other songs, are online at www.baylor.edu/itunes.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - TX