Baylor’s Bob Darden is renowned throughout the U.S. for his work on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. A digital collection of the genre, which can be found at Baylor’s Moody Library, was part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
Bob will share his expertise on this fascinating topic at “Music That Matters: The Enduring Power of Freedom Songs,” at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum. The free lecture is hosted by the Historic Waco Foundation.
“Black gospel music is significant in Waco for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that Jules Bledsoe, the noted African-American opera singer, was born in Waco and returned to his hometown regularly,” Bob said. “Bledsoe, though best known as the original singer of “Old Man River’ from ‘Showboat’ on Broadway, was a ground-breaking performer and was the first black man to sing with a host of major symphonies and operas in the United States.
“He was also instrumental in that he continued to perform the old ‘protest spirituals’ throughout the 1940s and sang them regularly on national radio programs at a time when that just wasn't done.”
Bob also points to the fact that Waco was the home of Word Records Inc., at one time the largest religious music label in the world. Word had a number of the best-known gospel artists on its rosters, who visited town regularly, including the legendary Shirley Caesar. Additionally, even before Word, Waco was a regular stop on the Gospel Highway, with major artists singing at St. James United Methodist Church and New Hope Baptist Church, he said.
“Growing up in the Air Force -- which was integrated with its founding -- I was surrounded by the gospel music of my friends and their families,” Bob said. “It became the soundtrack of my life. I was gospel music editor for Billboard Magazine for nearly 15 years, and I've been writing about it for a long time.”
The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project is the world’s largest initiative to identify, acquire, catalogue, scan, digitize and someday make available America’s fast-vanishing legacy of vinyl from gospel’s golden age.
Bob’s recent books include “Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume II: From the Sit-Ins to Resurrection City” and “Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume I: The Influence of Black Sacred Music on the Civil Rights Movement.” He also is the author of “People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music.”
A dynamic teacher, Bob has won numerous awards at Baylor, including the 2016 Outstanding Professor for College of Arts & Sciences for Teaching, the 2016 Diversity Award (with the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project) and the 2011 Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year honor.