Sound Of New Orleans Gospel Favorites
Recorded between 1982 and 2004
1. Ezekiel – The Zion Harmonizers - SONO 6007 Thank You Lord
2. Ninety-Nine and a Half – The New Orleans Spiritualettes – SONO 6012 I Believe
3. I Bowed on my knees and cried Holy – The Bemiss Brothers – SONO 6011 The Moment I Believed
4. Medley for thy Lord – Mahogany Brass band w/Gospel Dedicators - SONO 1044
5. Old Rugged Cross – - The Soulful Heavenly Stars – SONO 6009 Old Time Religion
6. What You Gonna Do? – Voices of Distinction- SONO 6014 What You Gonna Do?
7. Amazing Grace - Tara Darnell – SONO 1037 – Let It Shine
8. I’m So Glad - Soulful Heavenly Stars – SONO 6009 Old Time Religion
9. Steal Away – The Zion Harmonizers - SONO 6007 Thank You Lord
10. Little Boy – The New Orleans Spiritualettes – SONO 6012 I Believe
11. Roll, Jordan, Roll - Soulful Heavenly Stars – SONO 6009 Old Time Religion
12. Blessed Assurance – The Bemiss Brothers – SONO 6011 The Moment I Believed
13. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – The Zion Harmonizers – SONO 6006 Never Alone
14. Two Wings- New Orleans Spiritualettes – SONO 6012 I Believe
15. Old Noah – The Zion Harmonizers – SONO 6007 Thank You Lord
16. Lord You Brought me - Melody Clouds – SONO 6013 Great Day
17. Trust In God – The Zion Harmonizers - SONO 6006 Thank You Lord
18. Gospel Medley – Tara Darnell - SONO 1037 – Let It Shine
19. Wade in the Water – Mighty Chariots of Fire – SONO 6010 Remember Me, Oh Lord!
20. This Little light of Mine – David & Roselyn – SONO 1033 – Gospel From The Streets Of New Orleans
In the city where jazz was born, “major” recording companies have never shown much interest in the
local gospel music scene. Since the 1960s, recordings of New Orleans gospel music have been
produced almost entirely by small, locally owned labels like Booker, Wajo, Rosemont, and Gift. The
Sound of New Orleans label is squarely in the tradition of these independent, hands-on enterprises.
Basically a one-man operation, it was founded in 1972 by Gary Edwards, who had adventurously
provided sound for the premier, 1969 edition of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. While
reaching out to a broad range of Louisiana artists, Gary began to assemble an especially strong
catalogue of recordings by New Orleans church and community-based gospel quartets, soloists and
ensembles. Groups like the Zion Harmonizers, the Spiritualettes, and the Mighty Chariots came to
feel at home with Gary Edwards and his Sound of New Orleans label.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans, and the levee system gave way.
The floodwaters quickly reached Gary’s Sound of New Orleans studio on Canal Boulevard, and took
it under. When the water finally stopped rising, eighty percent of the city was inundated. The humble
little churches and neighborhoods that give life to the local gospel music scene were especially hard
In the heat of Katrina’s devastation, Gary thought to compile this emotional survey of “Gospel
Favorites,” as a way to stabilize himself amidst chaos all around him. “These songs are the ones that I
often sing to myself,” he confides. “There is very little chance that I will be in a position to record this
type of music again, so I decided that I needed to put out a sampler of the songs I think people should
know about.” A fitting retrospective, Gary’s “Gospel Favorites” includes at least one cut by every
gospel artist he has recorded.
The Zion Harmonizers: This exemplary male quartet was founded in New Orleans’ old Zion City
community in 1939. Under the guidance of Sherman Washington, the Zion Harmonizers have
emerged as one of the city’s great living cultural treasures. They sing comfortably in a “contemporary”
vein on “Trust in God,” which echoes the classic 1950s recording of that title by the Harmonizing Four.
But the Zion Harmonizers shine brightest on their irresistible acappella, close harmony arrangements
of slave spirituals. “Steal Away” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” are timeless examples of the gems
brought forth from bondage. “Ezekial” and “Old Noah” reflect the influence of the old Golden Gate
Quartet’s innovative “rhythmic spirituals,” with Brother Washington “rapping” on the trademark
The Spiritualettes: This popular female quartet was organized in 1957 by Ruby Ray, who had come
up singing in her Centerville, Mississippi, hometown. On what may be the highlight of this sampler,
the Spiritualette’s powerful lead singer, Audrey Ferguson makes a tour de force of the old gospel
theme, “Ninety-Nine and a Half Won’t Do,” which calls for a full, one-hundred percent commitment to
the Christian life:
What about ninety? Ninety won’t do!
Ninety-one; I’ve just begun,
Ninety-two; how about you?
Ninety-three; can’t you see,
Ninety-four, Him standing at the door?
Ninety-five; thank God I’m alive!
Ninety-six; my heart is fixed.
Ninety-seven; I’m on my way to Heaven.
Ninety-eight; don’t want to be late.
Ninety-nine; this heart of mine.
Ninety-nine and a half; don’t block my path.
Don’t block my path,
Cause ninety-nine and a half just won’t do!
The Spiritualettes also contribute a haunting acappella rendition of the Biblical number, “Little Boy
(How Old Are You?),” which only ends too soon; and a bench-breaking version of the gospel
warhorse, “Two Wings.”
The Bemiss Brothers: Al and Burnell Bemiss received their musical baptism at the Fifth African Baptist
Church on South Robertson Street, where their father, Rev. Walter J. Bemiss, held the pulpit. They
were blessed to come under the influence of the church’s organist and choir director, William
Houston, Jr., a legendary New Orleanian who also led his own society band, ran his own music
school, and directed bands and choirs in the New Orleans public schools. The brothers have spent
time on both sides of the aisle; Al’s experiences include a lengthy tenure with Clarence “Frogman”
Henry. Here, with Al at the keyboards and Burnell singing ever so smoothly, the Bemiss Brothers offer
refreshing versions of “I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy” and the standard hymn by Fanny J.
Crosby, “Blessed Assurance.”
The Mahogany Brass Band with the Gospel Dedicators: When the Mahogany Brass Band decided to
include a gospel medley on their session, Gary convinced leader Brice Miller to let him bring in some
singers, and he was fortunate in securing the services of the Bell Brothers, aka the Gospel
Dedicators, of Malaco Records fame. The marriage of gospel singers to brass bands is somewhat
novel, but not entirely unprecedented. Traditional jazz fans may recall Bunk Johnson’s band’s 1946
recordings with Sister Ernestine Washington; and Sister Elizabeth Eustis’ 1950s recordings for
Southland with bands led by Percy Humphrey, Thomas Jefferson, and others. Clipping along at a
breathless pace, the Mahogany Brass Band’s “Medley for Thy Lord” chains “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah”
to “This Little Light of Mine,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “In the New Jerusalem” and “Jesus on the Mainline.”
The Heavenly Stars: Under the care of Alvin “Big Al” Jackson, the Soulful Heavenly Stars have
become one of the New Orleans gospel community’s most successful cultural ambassadors. Their
thoughtful arrangements of “Old Rugged Cross,” with its sparse piano and guitar backing; and “I’m So
Glad,” fully acappella, leave no doubt about their ability to harmonize. Their particularly effective
gospel arrangement of the slave spiritual, “Roll, Jordan, Roll,” pays homage to the Skylarks, whose
1962 recording of it features the penultimate quartet bass singer, Isaac “Dickie” Freeman.
The Voices of Distinction: The Spiritualette’s veteran lead singer, Audrey Ferguson, and her
daughter, Dee Dee, powerfully lead this ensemble of six female voices. They create enough tension
in “What You Gonna Do (When the World’s on Fire)?” to bring any sinner to the altar.
Tara Darnell: Singer and composer Tara Darnell came through the trenches singing backup for the
likes of Wanda Rouzan and blues diva Marva Wright, who also knows a thing or two about gospel
singing. Tara also sings with Bishop Paul S. Morton, the visionary senior pastor of Greater St.
Stephens Full Gospel Church. In her first outing as a soloist, she worries “Amazing Grace” with the
authority of a present-day Bessie Griffin. In her “Gospel Medley” she moves from “This Charge I Have
(the World Didn’t Give It to Me)” to “This Little Light of Mine,” and then stretches out on “Jesus on the
The Melody Clouds: Leo Jackson, Sr., organized this family quartet with his three sons, Leo, Jr.,
Carey and Melvin, in 1965, back in their hometown of Jayess, Mississippi. In New Orleans the Melody
Clouds recorded for Rosemont and Gift before coming to Sound of New Orleans in 2001. Their
original creation, “Lord You Brought Me Through,” with its infectious electric guitar accompaniment,
goes to the heart of making “a way out of no way.”
The Mighty Chariots: Founded in 1959, the Mighty Chariots were fine-tuned by guitarist and musical
director William “Pete” Walker. At this critical point in New Orleans history, their reading of “Wade in
the Water” seems to recall the darkest days of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.
David and Roselyn: In the great tradition of itinerant troubadours, David and Roselyn often shine their
light on Royal Street in the French Quarter. Their version of “This Little Light of Mine,” serves to
reprise this collection of Sound of New Orleans “Gospel Favorites,” as they extemporize:
All over New Orleans
I’m gonna let it shine
I’m gonna let it shine…
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a question often pondered in gospel song has acquired specific
import: will the circle be unbroken? Will the little community churches that provide the necessary
context for a viable gospel tradition in New Orleans manage to overcome the cataclysmic flooding,
the great Diaspora that followed, and the wandering in the wilderness that has yet to subside? Will
the likes of the Zion Harmonizers, Spiritualettes, Bemiss Brothers, Melody Clouds, Mighty Chariots,
etc., be able to maintain continuity? The fragile nature of our cultural heritage has been laid bare for
all to see. Keeping it together is going to require a full measure of prayer and social commitment.
Ninety-nine and a half just won’t do…
- Lynn Abbott, 2006
When I met Sherman Washington at the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival, there was an
immediate bond of kindred spirits. I was there to provide 4 little sound systems because I thought that
it was a good idea to have such an event. Sherman was there to do what he had done for years, sing
and praise the Lord. We both thought that a special stage for Gospel music should be included in
any future events. As a young festival producer, Quint Davis would make a wise decision and took
Sherman’s advice. The Gospel Tent has become a large part of the festival, a focal point for many
visitors every year.
I had no idea that 40 years later, Sherman and I would still be working together. With his good will, I
have been allowed to see a large part of the world that would never been possible without the spirit of
Gospel Music. In my work, I have been blessed by my association with Dr. Bobby Jones and many of
the other stars of Gospel music. No matter where I travel, there is always a moment when I am
reminded that my friend Sherman Washington is still a giant of the Gospel music world.
Gary J. Edwards
The voices of the wonderful singers and the sounds of the great musicians that are heard on this
compilation are very special to me. I have been listening to these songs for years, and I know that
many others have appreciated the talents of the artists. As the producer of all the music on this CD, I
was overwhelmed by emotion every time that I worked on choosing the songs to be included. The
time limitation on the CD has forced me to exclude some of my favorites. It is a difficult task to choose
favorites from your “children” so to speak. It was even more painful to think that a tradition might be in
If one combines the talents of Sherman Washington, Ms. Ruby Ray, Alvin Johnson, Audry Ferguson,
Robert Lee, Tara Darnell, Nolan Washington, Helen Carter, Bernell Bemiss, Dee Dee Thrumond,
Joseph “JB” Warrick, Howard Bowie, Nories Louis, Leo Jackson, Joel Bell, Louis Jones, David &
Roselyn and the many others whose vocals are an important part of the sound of each group and the
skill and emotions of the musicians whose inspired performances are so much a part of New Orleans
the result should begin to represent a part of the spirit that is still alive in Gospel music, and in New
Since Katrina, I have become aware of the things that I know, and hopefully, do best are CD
production, assembling sound systems and Hammond organs. To use what I know to help, in some
way, the many churches that have been hurt by the storm, I am going to create my own personal fund
for helping rebuild them. So, I have earmarked the profits from this production to help provide the
things that I can do best. I am not asking for anyone else’s help with this project, so I can do what I
think is best, and I feel that I will be working with the proper motivation.
Gary J. Edwards
Gary A. Edwards
Copyright © Sound Of New Orleans 2006
Produced by Gary J. Edwards
Sound Of New Orleans
PO Box 701157
Houston, TX 77271
(504) 352 1303
Website: www. SoundOfNewOrleans.com
Gary J. Edwards
PO Box 701157
Houston, TX 77270
(713) 688 2293 Cell (504) 352 1303