Just back from L.A. and the 57th Grammy Awards. Although we didn’t win, we did come back with a lot of great memories made with friends and family. Count us among those who believe Beck has plenty of “real artistry.”
We took some audio gear along, and before leaving, we got together with a couple of collector friends and did some transfers. Top of the “to do” list was to procure new digital transfers of some brown wax cylinders made in 1899 by legendary evangelist and hymn composer, Ira D. Sankey. Sankey’s records are the centerpiece of our upcoming collection, Waxing the Gospel, a multi-CD volume that tells the story of the earliest sacred recordings—from the 1890s.
Years of research and preparation have gone into this set, yielding a tale that will surprise most readers and listeners. Many people think that the earliest days of recording were flooded with recordings of gospel songs … but they are actually quite rare. Most seem to think that this type of material is slow and dreary … but much of it is actually brisk and upbeat. A lot of people probably expect the sound to be scratchy and difficult … but the vast majority of what we’ve found is stunning in clarity. Some of the one-of-a-kind records are more challenging, but when we tell you who made the records and where they come from, your spine will tingle and you’ll turn into an inquisitive audio detective.
That’s because, besides a healthy slate of commercial recordings from the 1890s, we also have a number of home and field recordings as part of the set, showing just what people were up to with their own phonographic gear. We have been able to track down the identities of the performers and compose mini-biographies on them. In the case of a large collection of field recordings, we also have been able to determine who made them, as well as where and when. We have a great deal to tell you about, but not just yet.
Today is the centennial of the death of the most prolific of all American hymn text writers, the blind poet Frances Jane “Fanny” Crosby. She was a close associate of Sankey’s, and many of her songs will appear on Waxing the Gospel—but she was also a great citizen, devoting her life to helping the poor and downtrodden. Her 195th birthday anniversary is next month, March 24th. Pencil that in as the date we’ll divulge more fully the contents of this set that we believe will write a new chapter in recording history.