The Mighty Clouds of Joy: When the Gates Swing Open
I‘m working on something for Oliver di Place later this week that reminded me of my onetime exploration of black gospel music. This music is unabashedly Christian, so this was, perhaps, a strange preoccupation for a nice Jewish boy, but I was raised in a non-religious household, and this is music of undeniable power.
In the early 1980s, I found myself living with my father briefly. It was the first time I had ever lived in a city. One of my chores was to walk two blocks every Sunday morning to the nearest bodega, and get the Sunday paper. One block took me to the local black Baptist church. On Sunday mornings, there was this amazing sound coming from the place, and the building fairly shook with it. The whole congregation sang together as one in praise of the Lord, and it was hard to avoid being swept up in it, even from the sidewalk outside.
But my interest goes back further. It was Paul Simon’s fault. When Loves Me Like a Rock came out, I checked the liner notes to see who provided those great background vocals. It was The Dixie Hummingbirds. I was never the sort to stop at checking out just one group. I wanted to know, “Is there any more like this?” So I explored the world of small group black gospel music. And eventually, I found The Mighty Clouds of Joy, among others.
In due time, something else caught me ear, and the next exploration began. And given that I never found anyone else who liked gospel music, it fell by the wayside. But, in thinking about it again, what I remembered was that The Mighty Clouds of Joy best embodied the power of this music, of all the groups I remember. I did not remember any specific songs by them, but I think this one amply shows what I mean.