An introduction to Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul

By Ann Powers

In 1947, a white Southern musical entrepreneur named Lee Roy Abernathy made a move that shook up churchgoing America – and the sound of popular music. That winter, the Georgia-born pianist and songwriter went into an Atlanta studio with his group the Homeland Harmony Quartet to record his latest composition, “Gospel Boogie.” Abernathy was a musical entrepreneur, selling sheet music for his compositions at fifty cents a pop, and he kept his ears open to the hottest trends among the both the pious and the profane. “Gospel Boogie” is all about the wonder of heaven, as is made clear by its alternate title, “Everybody’s Gonna Have a Wonderful Time Up There.” But it’s full of earthly pleasures: a propulsive piano line evocative of Chicago keyboard masters like Albert Ammons, busy harmonies that anticipate doo wop, and a distinct twang that makes a connection to country barn-burners like the Delmore Brothers’ 1946 stomper “Freight Train Boogie”. From the dreamy falsetto that wafts through the background to the spoken word verses that almost sound like an early version of rap, “Gospel Boogie” is a mind-boggling example of mid-century popular musical elements colliding within one song.

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