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Mickey Guyton Asks Country Music Fans to Imagine Being ‘Black Like Me’ – Variety

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As the foremost Black woman in country music — and one who is still waiting to enjoy a big radio hit, despite a series of buzzy singles over the last five years — Mickey Guyton has sometimes felt she faced the “double whammy” of race and gender, to the point where she says she’s often felt like she was “walking on eggshells” in always putting on a friendly face for the genre’s gatekeepers.

But the powerhouse vocalist has found newfound power in outspokenness. In February, she released “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?,” a searing ballad that may be one of the most powerful songs anyone has ever written about systemic sexism. And that was just the tip of the iceberg in Guyton rising to meet the moment this year. Once the Black Lives Matter protests began, she brought out “Black Like Me,” a song she’d been holding back for an upcoming album, to encourage country fans (and the industry, too) to see things through her eyes.

She spoke with Variety from her apartment in Los Angeles, where she’s working on a new Universal Music Nashville release to come out this fall.

VARIETY: You already had what seemed like the most sobering country single of the year when you addressed systemic sexism with “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” back in February. Then “Black Like Me” really upped the ante.

GUYTON: It wasn’t something I was intentionally trying to do. There was no media strategy to get me to this point. It’s like God aligned all of this; he put this music on my heart. I hope it encourages everybody else to really start singing their truth. To be frank, I was inspired by pop music and how honest they have been (recently) in their music. I had forgotten that feeling, because that’s what made me love country music — because they sang real songs — and was why I wanted to be a part of this genre. Then something happened where everybody only wanted light and fluffy party songs, and it was really difficult for me to find my footing in that. So I just made my own footing.

You were holding on to “Black Like Me” for your album, but you decided to put it out now. What’s the reaction been like?

The response has been quite shockingly big for me. That song was so close to my heart with the things I had been dealing with within the industry, and that I’ve dealt with through my life. There is a lot of pain that I’ve been feeling for a long time, and that I’ve felt unable to talk about because people don’t like uncomfortable conversations. I thrive in uncomfortable conversations, because out of those comes healing, and we can get better. The idea came from a book that I read, “Black Like Me,” that was written by a white man in the 1960s, John Howard Griffin, who darkened his skin through radiation and went to the deep South to see what it was like to be a Black man in America. And this song is just saying: step outside of your shoes for a second and see what it is like to be someone else and then you’d understand. Before I wrote “Black Like Me,” I was already feeling these feelings of sadness, of being within an industry that frowns upon you speaking about injustice happening in society. I’ve felt silenced for a very long time.

Where did you feel the pressure to stay silent coming from?

Part of it was my doing. And part of it was seeing the cancel culture, which started within country music during the Dixie Chicks. When you’re already a woman and already not getting played on radio, the last thing you want to do is say one more thing to stop them from wanting to play you altogether. I felt like I was walking on eggshells a lot. But if you’re speaking the truth in love… I’m not here to shame anybody. I’m just begging people in my industry to want to stand with me and figure this out.

 

Right about the same time you put out “Black Like Me,” another leading Black country artist, Kane Brown, put out a much more inspirational song having to do with race, “Worldwide Beautiful.” His position in that song and on his social media is that the world would be a better place if we could be color-blind.

I wish that were the truth. I appreciate him trying to write that, but I don’t think everybody is color-blind, or else we wouldn’t be in this position.

The recent protests and increased racial awareness have brought a lot of things into the open. It took this year for the problem with Lady Antebellum’s name to really publicly arise, even though it’d been whispered about for 15 years.

I don’t understand why people in this town just whisper and say these things in (hushed) oohs and aahs and don’t openly just say it. Why aren’t people having these uncomfortable conversations? I know those people’s hearts. Dave (Haywood) is an amazing human being. And if people would have just said something a long time ago, I’d put money on it, that they would have changed it.

There were a lot of sensitive responses to the George Floyd-related protests from country artists. But there were some stereotypical attitudes about the genre that were reinforced, too. One of the first responses from a country star was Chase Rice tweeting: “Yeah, rioting helps.”

Oh, I responded to it (on Twitter). I’m not saying that riots and looting are what you should do when you’re frustrated, when there’s social unrest. However, Chase Rice has benefited from Black culture. That song “Cruise” [that he co-wrote], which Florida Georgia Line recorded, those are R&B melodies and lyrics; he’s made millions off Black culture. Yet he didn’t even say a single word about Black people being marginalized and mistreated. And if you can’t say that Black people have been marginalized and mistreated, but then you can comment on riots, you are a part of the problem. It is my job as a Black woman within this industry, if I see damaging comments like that, to let him and the rest of the world know: If you can first speak about the marginalization of people of color, by all means, have your way — but until you do,  you just should continue being silent.

How did you feel about some of the more positive things country artists have said on social media about people of color in the last month or two? Do you feel like it’s real, or is it token?

I would get frustrated when people would post and then add a Bible verse to it. It felt to me that they were trying to cushion the blow, or maybe get people not to say as mean things to them. And in my view, like, Jesus didn’t have anything to do with this! Jesus wasn’t mistreating Black people. Don’t add him into your narrative! That was frustrating for me. But at the same time, I appreciate it — whether the responses were great or not, I was thankful. I needed to see people say something. Because if no one said anything, I don’t know how I could be within the industry and be okay. I needed them to say that Black lives matter because I am Black. I have experienced discrimination. I have been called the N-word within this industry. And if they didn’t say anything — and there are still people that have not said anything, and I know their names and I’m sure you know them too; we all do. We’ve all been watching… If you don’t say something, it’s saying that you don’t care about me. That I don’t belong here is what that says to me. It’s not saying that blue lives don’t matter. It’s not saying that white lives don’t matter. It’s specifically saying that I don’t matter — that’s how it feels, when they say nothing, whether that’s their intention or not.

If there’s heightened awareness of race in country right now, will it last?

I have fear that it’ll go back to our normal scheduled programming. I do have that fear. It’s like when the pandemic first started and everybody was doing Instagram Lives and trying to entertain people  in these times of uncertainty, and then it eventually dies off. However, I am still very, very hopeful because there is so much more good than there is bad, and so many people being aware of systemic racism. It doesn’t necessarily mean anybody’s intentionally racist, but the fact that people are now aware of what systemic racism actually is. And I get so many messages from people, that are not just liberal, but saying things like, “I am a conservative woman, and I will not teach my sons how to hate.” That’s a beautiful thing. And the message that was being sent from NASCAR, even though someone still found a way to fly a flag over the races, but people are realizing the pain that that causes. So I do have hope and faith in that, but I am scared.

Your message may seem fairly uncontroversial, but you have not gotten universally positive responses on social media.

Some of the anger I’ve seen [from suggesting that people] say “I support Black lives” … I’ve seen comments like “I’m no longer supporting you.” Why? If I said I support white lives, would you support me? Because I do care about everybody’s life, but right now Black lives a lot of the times are not considered and not cared about as much. And … it’s just heavy. There’s a harsh reality that I’m seeing that has added to my sadness. I knew it was already there, but it’s so blatant and it’s so open. I’ve never understood why people are hanging on to hate. Nobody is hanging Hitler flags around their country, saying that that’s their heritage, you know? Nobody wants to be reminded of that monster who persecuted so many people. who wants that? But for some reason, people in America are holding on to these horrible human beings that tortured and terrorized people.

You grew up in Texas, in largely white neighborhoods. So being part of a genre that is — if we can be so bold to say — known for its whiteness is not an unfamiliar feeling for you.

Yeah, I’m used to it. I would go to all-Black churches on Sundays and then I’d go to an all-white school during the day. It always reminded me of where my place was. I had some of my closest friends in those years. But they didn’t want Black kids to go to that public school — this was in the ‘90s! — and so I went to a private school. My mom was a teacher’s aid so all of my brothers and my sisters could go to this school, and still I experienced… I remember my best friend in school said that her grandma and her mom called Black kids “N—lets.” I got second place in a spelling bee and [someone who placed lower] said, “Ha, well, at least I’m not Black.” At a Christian private school. So, imagine who that person probably is today.

With you being one of the few people of color in country music, it may have been hard for your label, the press and people who support you to know how to deal with that. Is your Blackness something to play up and celebrate, or something to play down because you should be positioned as a typical country artist who just happens to be Black? Maybe this is something people don’t have to be afraid to talk about so much, now that you’ve made it perfectly clear you want to talk about it.

The label is trying to help me and position me; they’re on my side of trying to spark change. But in the same sense, there’s been discussions about, “Okay, what happens if you start getting hate mail? We need to talk about having security for her if she starts getting death threats.” That was a conversation at one point. And that was terrifying for me. Because I didn’t know that talking about my experiences as a Black person who’s American, who is of this country, that there would be so much hate behind that. That is hard for me to comprehend in these times. But also, It’s not even just about my fight as a Black woman in this industry. As a Black person in this industry, I’m also trying to fight for women in this industry, because women in this music business, in country, are getting severely discriminated against. And as someone who knows firsthand what that feels like, it’s such a bigger burden than just the color of my skin. So let that sink in. [She softly laughs.] It’s been very, very heavy for me for a long time.

Lazy loaded image

Country singer Mickey Guyton
Mathieu Bitton

Shifting gears — are you actively working on an album during the pandemic?

I am. I’m using this time. I’ve got a great label (Universal Music Nashville) and we figured out how to make stuff work remotely. I am in L.A. [where Guyton lives part-time with her husband], but I have learned how to record with my producer  all the way in Nashville. I’ve got my mic, my audio interface and all of the setup that she needs. And I can share my screen, give her control of my mouse and she can conduct a ProTools session on my computer and record my vocals and send them to herself and put them in the track. So it’s been awesome, actually.

So I’m living the dream in my apartment.[Laughs.] I’m asthmatic. So I get really fearful being around people. And then after seeing what happened to D.L. Hughey (who collapsed on-stage at a comedy club in Nashville and then was diagnosed with coronavirus)… I’m really bad with the no-masks thing. Whether it’s that or people saying “All lives matter,” I will be that passive-aggressive person that glares at them.

You were showcasing five years ago and had such good material then, but it was very in the pocket for Nashville, and not nearly as pointed as these songs you’ve released lately. Because it’s taken this long to get material out, are you feeling like you might end up with a different balance of material on your record than you would have?

Yeah. You know, I’ve been recording for four years, just trying to fit into whatever Nashville says they want. And they don’t know what they want. And so I just kind of went back to basics and went back to why I fell in love with country music, because they seemed to always sing about the truth. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of that anymore, but that’s what I started with me trying to do.

I remember five years ago, seeing you do a showcase at a club in L.A., and you had a fun, sexy song called “Pretty Little Mustang.” II always wanted to hear it on a record. But now it’s a little bit difficult to imagine a song that escapist being on the same album as “What Are You Gonna Tell Her” and “Black Like Me.” 

Yeah. It won’t work! [Laughs.]

But can you do lighter songs alongside the serious, or do you feel like there has been kind of a fundamental shift in terms of the tone of your material and how you want to have it land when you do have an album out?

I do still have fun songs. I even have country drinking songs. But there’s a message even within that. Like, I have a drinking country song called “Rosé.” Women have some drinking songs, but typically it’s a man. Nobody has a brunch, daytime, “I’m going to sit here and sip my Rosé” type of country song. So it’s still conscious, in the sense of me being a woman and wanting to have a song like that, too. Or I wrote a song called “High Maintenance.” For women, it’s had a negative connotation to be high maintenance, right? It’s a fun song, but my version of it is, “Yeah, girl, be high maintenance. If you’re spending all this time getting dressed, and these guys want to upgrade and have visions of these girls that they see on Instagram, then they need to step it up and treat you [right].” There are still fun songs like that, but there’s always a message within them.

Your image is changing, anyhow. You’d been “the next Carrie Underwood” for so long. But right now, you’re country’s social conscience — its preeminent protest singer. There may be a little whiplash there.

I know. [Laughs.] But I’m a Gemini, so I can switch it up.

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Connection found between a lack of enjoyment of music and struggle with social interaction – The Science Show

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People who have musical anhedonia, a condition that prevents them from enjoying music, also tend to struggle to derive pleasure from social interaction.
Musical anhedonia is rare, affecting approximately 3% of the population.
Psyche Loui’s lab found structural differences between the brains of those who consistently get a physiological response to music, such as chills or goosebumps and those who do not. The researchers showed that people prone to experiencing chills or goosebumps had more connectivity between the areas of the brain responsible for processing auditory stimuli and the brain regions important for emotion and social reward. Psyche Loui suggests music is really a way to use your auditory channel to get toward the social and emotion centres of your brain.
The findings were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle in February 2020. This result with other insights into the connection between music and the human body’s physiological processes, could help clinicians develop therapies that use music to ease anxiety and other conditions.

Speaker
Psyche Loui
Associate Professor and Director MIND Lab (Music, Imaging and Neural Dynamics)
Northeastern University

Elizabeth Margulis
Professor of Music
Princeton University

Presenter
Robyn Williams

Producer
David Fisher

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BAC’s flatbed concert, fundraisers, music, art and more highlight weekend around Carson City region | Carson City Nevada News

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Event Date: 

Repeats every day until Sun Jul 12 2020 .

July 10, 2020 (All day)

July 11, 2020 (All day)

July 12, 2020 (All day)

Heading into the weekend, there’s a number of activities, gatherings, virtual or not, happening around the Carson City region. Safety guidelines for the state of Nevada have been enforced, so please make sure to bring a mask and practice social distancing.

Do you have an event or happening you’d like people to know about? Tell us about it by clicking here, filling out the details and we’ll tell Carson City area readers about your event or happening. Not seeing your event you wish to promote? You can also submit the relevant information, also known as the “5Ws and How” to editor@carsonow.org. We will update this calendar as submissions are made.

Here’s a rundown of activities over the next three days:

Friday, July 10
Bookend summer with great reads, activities during 2020 Carson City Library Learning Challenge (all day). From June 13 to July 31, Summer Learning Challenge participants complete a certain number of virtual programs, activities and reading, depending on their age. Prizes are earned for registration and completion, and participants track all their reading time in a simple app. Everyone who registers will be eligible to receive a special take-home kit, with fun activities to log with their reading.

Foothill Garden Education Series Online Event. 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. hosted by the Greenhouse Project. In this installment, we’ll be discussing the importance of a chemical-free landscape in maintaining healthy, low-maintenance gardens and orchards. Exploring the relationship between predators and prey, plants and their allies, and our cultivated spaces and wild places is a wonderful way to find your own holistic approach to gardening and landscape management.

Nevada Artists Association Spirit of America Show. 12 to 4 p.m. at 449 W. King St. The Spirit of America proves to be alive and well in this judged show. Entries are from Nevada Artists Association NAA member and non-member artists from Northern Nevada and are divided into judged categories including oils, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, dry media, 3D art, photography, digital art and mixed media. Everyone is invited to the awards presentation and reception.

Dancing Class at Yaple’s Ballroom Dance Studio. 3 to 4 p.m. at 315 N. Carson St. Join us for some dancing! No partner needed. Learn dance steps to all Ballroom and Latin dances. A Mix of mini dance routines and line dances. Improve turns and balance. Good for anyone who is wanting to learn to dance.

Virtual Hour of Code. 4 to 5 p.m. hosted by the Carson City Library. Do you enjoy coding? Then join us for one hour of computer programming each month! No prior experience needed. This month, learn how to code and make magic on screen with creative challenges inspired by the wizarding world. Connect code blocks, see the Javascript and learn how to make feathers fly, fireworks fizz and bang, compose music, and more in these Harry Potter Coding challenges!

FUNdraiser for advocates to end domestic violence at Classy Seconds. 4 to 6 p.m. at 3590 Gordon St. We are big supporters of AEDV’s cause, and we participated in their biggest fundraiser, Taste of Downtown, last year. We want to continue to do our part to support this nonprofit’s purpose to support, serve, shelter, and empower survivors.

Suspect Terrance at Bella Vita Bistro. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at 1304 S. Stewart St. Suspect Terrane will be playing outdoors on the patio at Bella Vita. There’s plenty of room to spread out! Bring your own chair if you like

Virtual Open Mic Night at A to Zen. 6 p.m. at 1803 N. Carson St. In light of COVID-19, A to Zen Gift Shop in Carson City is hosting a virtual open mic night every Friday at 6 p.m. Interested participants can record their performance and send the video with the link above.

One Way Street Promo Party at Living the Good Life. 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at 1480 N. Carson St. We will be back in the public for the first time this summer. Come hear great cover tunes and get to hear our songs on their new album.

DaVinci and Drinks at the Carson Valley Art Centerenter. 7 to 10 p.m. at 1539 Hwy 395 N. Suite 2 in Gardnerville. Come and enjoy some drinks and art in Gardnerville! Cost is $35 per attendee.

Friday Night Karaoke at the Whiskey Tavern. 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at 3481 Hwy 50 E. in Carson City. Come hang out with the Whiskey Tavern and J and M Productions as we sing the night away every Friday! Must be at least 21 years old.

Saturday, July 11

Huge Golf Club Blowout Sale at Downtown Coin. 8 a.m. at 111 W. Telegraph St. Clubs on sale for beginners all the way to pro line equipment! There will be 40 year’s accumulation in one place.

Carson City Farmer’s Market. 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the corner of 3rd and Curry St. The Carson City Farmer’s Market has returned every Saturday with fresh fruits, vegetables and much more!

Meditation Secrets for Women with Jenn Andrews. 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Carson City Yoga, 305 N. Carson St. Jenn is once again offering her amazing day long meditation workshop virtually. Join her online for discussion, practice, and community. This is a great time to deepen your meditation practice, and discover how your practice can support you as you move in the world.

Nevada State Treasurer presents Nevada’s economic response to Covid-19 to Lyon County Democrats. 10 a.m. This Saturday, July 11, State Treasurer, Zach Conine, will present a live update on the state of the Nevada economy to Lyon County Democrats via Zoom. Mr. Conine will discuss the impact of the Coronavirus on the Nevada economy and the outlook for recovery in the coming months. A question and answer session will follow his presentation. Don’t miss this important update.

Quilting Class at Dayton’s Calvary Baptist Church. 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 4 Flowery Ave. in Dayton. Beginning quilting, seasoned quilters join together. If you don’t quilt, bring whatever you craft. We have plenty of room.

Train Rides at the Nevada State Museum. 10:40 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 2180 S. Carson St. Come to the museum for train rides featuring V&T No. 25! Train rides operate from 10:40 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Virtual Girls Who Code. 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. hosted by the Carson City Library. Girls grades 3-5 can join us virtually via Zoom. Gain future job skills, promote STEM interest, foster camaraderie and inspire confidence, all while learning the basics of coding! Registration to GirlsWhoCode HQ is required, so please email creativelearning@carsoncitylibrary.org to learn more about registration and how to receive an invite to join this program online via Zoom.

Summer Time Adoption at Carson City’s Pet Smart. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 250 Fairview Dr. Come join us and meet some great small dogs. Social distancing and masks are required please. We have dogs that really want to find a forever home!

Lord of Irons 5th Annual Summer Bash. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Veterans Resource Center, 106 E. Adams St. in Carson City. The Veterans Resource Center of Carson City gives HOPE to our local Veterans, and in our small way, we can give that most precious of gifts to men and woman that served this country that is in need. While in our 4 years of providing hope, we have made a real difference, we need your help. Demand has far outstripped the VRC’s resources; our Veterans need all our combined efforts.

Nevada Artists Association Spirit of America Show. 12 to 4 p.m. at 449 W. King St. The Spirit of America proves to be alive and well in this judged show. Entries are from Nevada Artists Association NAA member and non-member artists from Northern Nevada and are divided into judged categories including oils, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, dry media, 3D art, photography, digital art and mixed media. Everyone is invited to the awards presentation and reception.

BAC’s Flatbed Concert Series continues with Phreemium. 6 p.m. at 449 W. King St. Cool jazz on a hot summer night, Phreemium will be driving through the streets of the Silver Oak neighborhood ending at Mankins Park around 8:15. Please practice social distancing and wear your masks.

Alias Smith at Living the Good Life. 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at 1480 N. Carson St. Living the Good Life has safety and a Living a Good Life protocols in place for your health and your enjoyment of a wonderful evening in place. Limited seating so please reserve your table.

DaVinci and Drinks at the Carson Valley Art Center. 7 to 10 p.m. at 1539 Hwy 395 N. Suite 2 in Gardnerville. Come and enjoy some drinks and art in Gardnerville! Cost is $35 per attendee.

Live Music at Ponderosa Saloon in Virginia City. 8 p.m. at 106 C Street. There is no doubt how much fun and sing-a-long that happens when we play this fun and awesome establishment. You will have a Rock N Roll good time, guaranteed!

Sunday, July 12
Bookend summer with great reads, activities during 2020 Carson City Library Learning Challenge (all day). From June 13 to July 31, Summer Learning Challenge participants complete a certain number of virtual programs, activities and reading, depending on their age. Prizes are earned for registration and completion, and participants track all their reading time in a simple app. Everyone who registers will be eligible to receive a special take-home kit, with fun activities to log with their reading.

Girl Scouts of Sierra Nevada offers virtual Camp-In Camp Out as alternative summer option (all day). While the COVID-19 pandemic forced many camps to cancel their summer 2020 programs, Girl Scouts of the Sierra offers a safe, affordable alternative for girls to experience the beloved summertime tradition. With Camp Wasiu II’s Virtual Camp-In Camp Out, girls can fight learning loss with engaging science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) activities. Camp Wasiu II’s Virtual Camp-In Camp Out is Sunday, July 12 through Thursday, July 16.

Summer Time Adoption at Carson City’s Pet Smart. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 250 Fairview Dr. Come join us and meet some great small dogs. Social distancing and masks are required please. We have dogs that really want to find a forever home!

Mystery Bingo at Pioneer Crossing Casino. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 4 Pine Cone Rd. in Dayton. Mystery Bingo Games can be horizontal, vertical, four corners, “X”, or a picture frame! Win a share of $270 games played!

Sunday Maker “Morning” at The Nest. 12 to 4 p.m. at 3189 Hwy 50 East in Carson City. Come make things with us! Bring supplies or use some of ours, use the creative momentum of others to fuel your own inspiration! Perfect for Artists, Developers, Modeling enthusiasts, and so many more.

Monthly Church Potluck at Silver Hills Community Church. 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 4555 S. Edmonds Dr. in Carson City. Bring a dish to share for a lunch potluck to be held after the service. Stay to fellowship with our church family and share a meal. Second Sunday of every month.

Nevada Artists Association Spirit of America Show. 12 to 4 p.m. at 449 W. King St. The Spirit of America proves to be alive and well in this judged show. Entries are from Nevada Artists Association NAA member and non-member artists from Northern Nevada and are divided into judged categories including oils, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, dry media, 3D art, photography, digital art and mixed media. Everyone is invited to the awards presentation and reception.

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Sons of Soul Revivers celebrate 50 years of glorious gospel music – Marin Independent Journal

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The Sons of the Soul Revivers made their debut on July 4, 1970, at Friendship Baptist Church in South San Francisco.

Fifty years later, the acclaimed Bay Area gospel music troupe is still going strong, having just released the terrific new studio album, “Songs We’ll Always Sing — A Tribute to the Pilgrim Jubilees.”

“We are very excited. And very thankful, obviously,” lead vocalist James Morgan says of the band’s milestone anniversary. “Through the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, we decided we want to keep this thing going. We are in love — we eat, drink and breathe — traditional gospel quartet (music).

“I cannot think of any other group — no matter what style of music it is — that I would want to be apart of outside of the Sons of the Soul Survivors.”

The Vallejo band — which also features Morgan’s brothers Dwayne on vocals and Walter Jr. on vocals and guitar — will celebrate the release of the new album with a live-streamed concert from San Jose at 7 p.m. Sunday. Tune in to the the virtual blues/R&B/soul concert site Can’t Stop the Blues, facebook.com/CantStopTheBlues to watch the show, which also will serve as a de facto anniversary party for the Sons.

“Fifty years in the making — and, God willing, at least 20 more,” Morgan says. “That’s what I am looking for.”

The Sons of the Soul Revivers may be celebrating a half century of making music, but they are carrying on a family tradition that stretches back much further.

The Morgan siblings were raised in San Francisco by parents who were both active in gospel music groups. Their mother, Idanelle, sang with the Daughters of Triumph. And their father, Walter Sr., had worked with a number of groups since the ‘40s, including the Silver Four, the True Tones and the Soul Revivers.

It was the latter, of course, which would factor into the decision to take the name the Sons of the Soul Revivers when the band made its Independence Day debut 50 years ago.

At the time, the group consists of 9-year-old Walter Jr., brother Sydney and some cousins. A few years later, James decided he wanted to sing in the family band after attending a concert in Oakland by Detroit’s Fantastic Violinaires, featuring the charismatic lead vocalist Robert Blair.

“I thought he was larger than life,” says James Morgan, who was 7 years old when he joined the Sons of the Soul Revivers. “I knew that I wanted to be just like him.”

Since then, the band’s lineup has changed several times, with Walter Jr. being its only remaining original member. (Along with the three Morgan siblings, the current lineup consists of drummer Ronnie Smith and bassist DaQuantae Johnson, who provides the fourth voice in the Sons’ gospel quartet sound.)

After honing its sound on the live stage for years, the group recorded its first album, 1989’s “It Should Have Been Me,” at the San Francisco studio of Melvin Seals (well-known for his work with Elvin Bishop and Jerry Garcia). A second effort — “Help Me Lift His Holy Name,” recorded live at Union Baptist Church in Vallejo — landed in 1998, followed by other releases.

Along the way, the group caught the attention of Jim Pugh, who signed the Sons to a deal on his nonprofit record company, Southern California’s Little Village Foundation. The first offering from that deal was the concert outing “Live! At Rancho Nicasio,” which was recorded in Marin County. And now comes “Tribute to the Pilgrim Jubilees,” an homage to the iconic gospel outfit that has been around since the mid-1930s.

Little Village Foundation

The idea for the project first came up about six years ago, when the Pilgrim Jubilees’ two lead vocalists — Cleve and Clay Graham — came to the Bay Area to perform. The Grahams needed a backup band for the occasion, so they brought in the Sons for a tryout and they seemingly impressed as they played the traditional gospel number “Tis the Old Ship of Zion.”

“Cleve said, ‘You know what? As long as groups like you guys are still around, the Pilgrim Jubilees will never die.’” James Morgan remembers. “And that’s when I got the idea — ‘You know what? It would be great to do a tribute album to the Pilgrim Jubilees.’”

The result is a glorious collection of harmonies and songs, which Morgan hopes will provide both comfort and joy to listeners. He believes that gospel music has an opportunity to shine during these troubled times, when our nation is so divided and outrage is everywhere to be found.

“People in this world are in disarray — and the only hope we have is Jesus Christ,” he says. “Like Jesus said to the woman at the well, there will come a time when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. And now is that time.”

The Morgan brothers’ conviction of purpose — to bring gospel music to the people and, in doing so, honor God — is quite evident. They live modest lives, with all three siblings sharing the same house in Vallejo with their father, Walter Sr. And they have all worked “day jobs” over the years to pay the bills. Yet, Morgan says that the Sons of the Soul Revivers is aiming for something that is even more important than fame and fortune.

“What our job is – what our assignment is – is we spread the Good News that Jesus Christ is alive and well and that He is available to you if you reach out,” he says.

And the true riches come when the Sons of the Soul Revivers see someone grasp hold of that message, such as one woman who approached the band right after it had finished performing at a blues festival.

“She came up to us after we sang and she told us that she had contemplated committing suicide. She was that unhappy,” Morgan says. “But she heard the message. And she found out that life is worth living. Because the reality of it is that if you are living in this world you are going to have some problems. Nobody is exempt from getting sick or losing loved ones. We just want the world to know, through our music, there is joy, there is hope. You can be happy if you choose to.

“I choose to be happy because I know in my heart that there is hope, because I believe in God and His son Jesus. And I believe that, at the end of my day, that He has used us – the Sons of the Soul Revivers – as one of His tools, one of His vessels, to spread that love throughout the world.”

 

 

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