Rev Kelsey And His Congregation – Complete Recorded Works (1947-1951)
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Rev. Kelsey, Preaching and singing. Includes: Lena Phillips, vocal; Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Russell Morrison, comments; Cifton Chandler, trombone; and others… Gernes: Gospel, Sermons with singing.Informative booklet notes by Bob Laughton. Detailed discography.
Amen, hallelujah! When record players still had three – or even four – speeds, I used to own the three Vocalion 78s that contained the last six of the above titles. Like a lot of people, I have more suspicion than religion, but I couldn’t help but respond to Rev. Kelsey’s bellowed benedictions. His congregation, too, deserve their credit, for in their spoken and sung responses they stoke the fire of the reverend’s rhetoric. Listening to these tracks for the first time in twenty years, each nuance and tone in his voice leapt immediately to mind. Now that’s power.
Kelsey was plainly a charismatic preacher, not because he claimed the power of healing but because he bellowed belief into his congregation, overwhelming their minds with the simple power of his own undoubted belief. He had an intimate acquaintance with his flock, stage-managing their responses as he and they chanted ‘Amen! at one anther. This intimacy is best exemplified by the twelve plus minutes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s marriage to Russell Morrison on July 3, 1951. As well as a benevolent patriarch, he was also something of a comedian and raises hilarity several times as he performs the ceremony for licence no. 356,796, breaking off at one point to announce, “I know how to marry people. I know how to put them together. If they don’t stay together, it’s not my fault.”
These recordings, made for Scoop, Super Disc, MGM and Decca, generally consist of a short sermon followed by a rousing sing-along, accompanied by rasping trombone and piano. During his first version of ‘I’m A Soldier’, Kelsey breaks off his singing to recite the address of his Washington, D.C. church. Four tracks, including ‘Lord Bring The Rain’ and the sequence beginning with ‘I’m Striving To Make It To The Promised Land’, feature the lusty tones of Lena Phillips. In his notes, Bob Laughton modestly suggests that Rev. Kelsey was the best Holiness preacher of his generation and these recordings the very best of their genre. I’ve no argument with that. In fact, I second the motion. Can I get an ‘Amen’?