Sunday, March 12, 2017

Vespers: Sweet, Sweet Spirit


J.D. Sumner & The Stamps Quartet sing "Sweet, Sweet Spirit."

John Daniel "J. D." Sumner (1924 – 1998) was an American gospel singer, songwriter, and music promoter noted for his bass voice, and his innovation in the Christian and Gospel music fields. Sumner sang in 5 quartets and was a member of the Blackwood Brothers during their 1950's heyday. Aside from his incredibly low bass voice, Sumner's business acumen helped promote Southern Gospel and move it into the mainstream of American culture and music during the 50's and 60's.

The Stamps Quartet is celebrating 92 years singing professional Gospel music. It is the oldest and boasts the longest history of any professional, male quartet, in America still in existence and singing today. Here's a bit of history about J.D. Sumner and The Stamps Quartet.

"Sweet, Sweet Spirit" was composed by Dories Akers. Here's the story.
Doris Akers, born in Brookfield, Missouri, on May 21, 1923, was one of ten children. She learned to play the piano by ear at age six and by age ten had composed her first song. By the time she was twelve, she had organized a five-piece band that played music of the 1930s. When she was only 22 years of age, she moved to Los Angeles, where she encountered a thriving gospel music community. She met several outstanding musicians, such as Eugene Douglas Smallwood, who greatly influenced the gospel music career of this young African-American lady. A year later, Doris joined the Sallie Martin Singers as pianist and singer. Two years later, with Dorothy Vemell Simmons, she formed the Simmons–Akers Singers and also launched a publishing firm called Akers Music House
In 1958, in a Los Angeles church, she started a racially mixed gospel group, the Sky Pilot Choir, which featured African-American gospel music. People would drive for miles just to hear their song arrangements. Many artists, including the Stamps–Baxter Quartet, Bill Gaither, George Beverly Shea, and Mahalia Jackson, have recorded Akers’s songs. Countless other Southern Gospel Music groups still record and sing her music. Millions of church members have sung her songs, which have long been published in many hymnals. She was a recording artist, music arranger, choir director, and songwriter and was awarded Gospel Music Composer of the Year for both 1960 and 1961. 
One Sunday morning in 1962, while directing the Sky Pilot Choir, she said to her singers, “You are not ready to go in.” She didn’t believe they had prayed enough! They were accustomed to spending time with her in prayer before the service, asking God to bless their songs. She said, “I feel that prayer is more important than great voices.” They had already prayed, but this particular morning she asked them to pray again, and they did so with renewed fervor. 
As they prayed, Doris began to wonder how she could stop this wonderful prayer meeting. She said, “I sent word to the pastor letting him know what was happening. He was waiting in the auditorium, wanting to start the service. Finally, I was compelled to say to the choir, "We have to go. I hate to leave this room and I know you hate to leave, but you know we do have to go to the service. But there is such a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place."
More on the song here.

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