In the mid-20th century, Louisville gospel music was occasionally recorded when members of the local gospel community pressed 45rpm records and LPs, and released them through grassroots record labels such as Sensational Sounds, Grace, Blessed, and D.J.S. Over the years, a substantial body of work was produced in our city, but those recordings are in danger of being lost forever.
The Louisville Story Program has been working with dozens of people in the local gospel music community to locate, digitize, and preserve hundreds of these recordings and to develop a book that documents and honors the legacies of the people and communities that produced them.
For decades, the passion, hard work, and support of countless people across dozens of Black church communities in Louisville have nurtured and sustained a rich gospel music ecosystem. This music has served as a central part of people's religious practice and as an expression of Black pride, joy, affirmation, love, dignity, determination, and hope. This legacy continues to this day.
With support from Mrs. Christina Lee Brown and Owsley Brown III, LSP has partnered with members of the gospel community and a local advisory group of local gospel historians and luminaries:
- To locate, clean, and digitize gospel records of local artists released by small local labels
- To accompany the local Black gospel music community in developing a 4 CD boxed set that includes a 200+ page hardcover book with first-person documentation of their rich history
- To create and maintain a public-facing digital archive of 1,000 songs and 1,000 photographs
- To generate 50 hours of oral histories
- To celebrate the final release with a large concert at the Kentucky Center for the Arts (September 2024)
Authors and project partners include:
- Wilma Clayborn, who ran Grace Records, a prolific gospel record label and record store, for many years
- Rev. Charles E. Kirby, founder and longtime pastor of Southern Star Missionary Baptist Church, former president of the Kentucky branch of SCLC, and renowned singer
- Bishop Melvin Cuff, pastor of Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church, who toured the national gospel music circuit for 25 years
- Lamont Butler, who along with his father Cliff Butler ran the House of Truth and Blessed Records
- Argie Dale, general manager of WLOU and legendary gospel musician and label owner
- Bessie Leavell Palmer, member of the Gospel Descendents and longtime president of the Louisville Gospel Choral Union
- Frances Pimpleton, manager of the Pimpleton Singers and former member of the Golden Echoes
- Raoul Cunningham, former director of Green Street Baptist Church Youth Choir and current President of the Louisville Branch of the NAACP
- Rev. Della Porter, member of the nationally-touring Traveling Notes and the Gospel Chanteurs and former pastor of First Congregational Methodist Church
- Bishop Dennis Lyons, acclaimed gospel organist and pianist and pastor of Gospel Missionary Church
- Linda Sharpe, co-manager of the Religious Five and daughter of C.W. Sharpe, a major figure in the Louisville gospel quartet community from the 1940s through the 1980s
- Kelvin Thomas, son of Joe Thomas, legendary organist and pianist and proprietor of B-J Sounds studio and the Sensational Sounds, B-J Sounds, and Des Moines record labels
- Rev. Nathaniel "Peewee" Brown, manager of the New Golden Crowns and musician on countless recordings made in Louisville studios
- Ben Jones, owner of Better Days Records and former drummer at Cable Street Baptist Church
- Mary "Joy" Ellis and Mary Thomas, former and current members of the Riverview Spiritual Singers
- Rev. Andre James, former member of Rev. Eddie James and Family and current member of the New Golden Crowns
- Lucy James of the James Singers
- Joetta Perkins, former director of the University of Louisville Black Diamond Choir
- Willie "Tee" Glover, member of the Tones of Joy and former proprietor of Mr. Tee's Record Shop
- Rev. LeRoy Elliott, member of the Junior Dynamics
- ...and many others!
Throughout 2024, we will roll out some spectacular music, footage, excerpts, and images. Make sure you are on our email list and following us on social media to get these updates.