Sunday, April 26, 2015

"Swing Down Sweet Chariot" - The Golden Gate Quartet and by Elvis Presley, Part I (GGQ)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series about The Golden Gate Quartet (GGQ) and Elvis Presley, with particular focus on that African American quartet's influence on Elvis Presley's renditions of the African American Gospel song "Swing Down Sweet Chariot"("Swing Down Sweet Chariot, Lord And Let Me Ride").

Part I provides information about The Golden Gate Quartet, including information about Elvis Presley's impromptu meeting with that group in Europe in 1960. Part I also features two YouTube examples of the GGQ's rendition of "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" (1946, 1967), and includes selected quotes from those examples' discussion threads. A number of these comments refer to GGQ's meeting with Elvis Presley and/or the GGQ's influence on Elvis Presley.

Click for Part II of this series. That post Part II provides information about Elvis Presley, and his meeting with GGQ in Europe in 1960s. Part II also features two YouTube examples of Elvis's rendition of "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" (1960, 1968/1969), and includes selected quotes from those examples' discussion threads. One of those comments provides Elvis' adapted lyrics to that song.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, religious, and aesthetic reasons.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the Golden Gate Quartet for their musical legacy. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post, and thanks to the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

Click for information about and early lyrics for songs that became "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" as well as lyrics for that song that were sung by the Golden Gate Quartet and other Gospel quartets . Here's a brief excerpt of that post:
""Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Swing Down Sweet Chariot Lord And Let Me Ride" aren't the same song. However, it's very likely that "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" was inspired by the traditional "Swing Low" Spiritual.

..."Swing Down Chariot And Let Me Ride" is referred to as a hymn, a camp meeting song, a Spiritual, and/or an early Gospel song. This song might be an African American Spiritual - since its likely that only a small number of Spirituals that were sung in the 19th century were collected. However, the way this song was first recorded in the 1940s probably wasn't the way it was sung in the 19th century.

I think it's most likely that "Swing Down Chariot And Let Me Ride" is an early Gospel song with no known composer rather than a Spiritual."

"The Golden Gate Quartet (aka The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet) is an American vocal group. It was formed in 1934 and, with changes in membership, remains active. It is the most successful of all of the African-American gospel music groups who sang in the jubilee quartet style.
The group was founded as the Golden Gate Jubilee Singers in 1934, by four students at the Booker T. Washington College in Norfolk, Virginia...

From 1935, the group sang in churches and on local radio, gaining a regular spot on radio station WIS in Columbia, South Carolina in 1936.[1][5] They began as a traditional jubilee quartet, combining the clever arrangements associated with barbershop quartets with rhythms borrowed from the blues and jazz like scat singing. They developed a broad repertoire of styles – from Owens' mournful, understated approach in songs such as "Anyhow" or "Hush, Somebody's Calling My Name", to the group's highly syncopated arrangements in "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego". Like The Mills Brothers in popular music, they would often include vocal special effects in their songs, imitating train sounds in songs such as "Golden Gate Gospel Train". Landford often sang lead, using his ability to range from baritone to falsetto, while Johnson narrated in a hip syncopated style that became the hallmark for the group. Wilson's bass served as the anchor for the group and Owens harmonized with Landford and Johnson...

In 1937 they moved to station WBT in Charlotte, North Carolina, and soon afterwards won a contract with Bluebird Records. After their first recording session on August 14, 1937, in which they recorded 14 songs in two hours,[1] they were contracted to record 12 tracks per year. In 1938, they were recruited by John Hammond to appear at the first From Spirituals To Swing concert held at Carnegie Hall in New York City, after which their popularity grew...

The quartet lost their pre-eminent position in gospel music after the war, when they faced competition from the newer hard gospel quartets. They continued in their old style, offering sharper political commentary in songs such as "God's Gonna Cut 'Em Down", but losing much of their audience to quartets such as the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Soul Stirrers. Henry Owens left in 1950 to become a preacher and solo artist. Alton Bradley returned to replace him, but then left in 1952 when he was replaced by Eugene Mumford (1925-1977), previously of The Larks.

The Golden Gates revived their career in 1955, however, when they toured Europe for the first time, where they became widely popular. The group moved to Paris in 1959 and has continued touring, primarily in Europe, since then. During his stint in the US Army, in Germany, Elvis Presley, who was a huge admirer of their work since his early childhood, visited them backstage at "Le Lido", in Paris, and stayed to watch their entire show, staying also with them at the hotel "Prince de Galles". Presley recorded a version of their popular "Swing Down Chariot" that appeared on his His Hand in Mine gospel album."...

Saturday, February 21, 2009 "glisten: The Work of the Father 3"
..."a few words on THE GOLDEN GATES and ELVIS

In the course of conversations with Orlandus "Dad" Wilson, the great Golden Gate Quartet bass singer, I was surprised to learn of an impromptu backstage jam session the Golden Gates had with Elvis Presley at the Casino de Paris early in 1960, and the reverberations from that encounter in Elvis's subsequent recorded repertoire. For example, "Elvis Is Back!," Elvis's first LP following his military service, includes a version of the Golden Gates' secular hit "I Will Be Home Again," recorded as a duet with Jordanaires' tenor Charlie Hodge....

Elvis and the Jordanaires recorded "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" about six months after his Paris jam session with the Golden Gate Quartet. Wilson judged their rendition: "very well done… close to the Golden Gate Quartet. If you're not sharp enough, when you hear it you think it's the Gates."

One of Elvis's most endearing artistic qualities was his identification with southern vernacular music and his genuine appreciation of African American musicians. While some of the phrasing and inflection in his renditions of songs originally recorded by black artists sometimes approaches outright mimicry, Elvis's methods seem practically reverential, and never descend into parody or minstrel-mockery. This sensitivity and association-by-sound is evident in Elvis's adaptation of "Swing Down Chariot," including the Jordanaires' quartet backing.

The lead singer on the Golden Gate Quartet's 1946 Columbia 78rpm release of "Swing Down Chariot" is Bill Johnson, except the last verse, which is sung by Henry Owens"...
The Jordanaires are a White vocal group which started as a Southern Gospel quartet but sang backup for Elvis Presley and other singers.

Example #1: The Golden Gate Quartet: Swing Down Chariot

PurpleSnowman29, Uploaded on Jul 10, 2008

This song was recorded in 1946.
Selected comments from this sound file's discussion thread:
Darneloh, 2008
"I see you went all the way backl to one of the most successful Quartets that were around.They were able to cross over into wider audiences."

PurpleSnowman29, 2008
in reply to Darneloh
"Yes sir, and they were able through God almighty to cross over and bring this gospel music to the Caucasion masses."

GunnarHeardU, 2009
Heard it when I was a child, my father had the record but it got lost.
But one thing: The Bass voice for sure is Orlandus Wilson, Al Hall may play the double bass, similarly Carl Kress should be the guitarist (hardly audible so I won't bet it's him) and the baritone voice sounds like Caleb Ginyard but I may be wrong. Anyway the music counts."

SyberkaPL, 2009
"Now i know, this is from 1947 session. Members were Orlandus Wilson, Willie Johnson, Henry Owens, Clyde Riddick."

yitzhakdar, 2012
"I remeber them appearing in Israel aroung 1955 and again in the 60's. Tickets were sold a long time before the concerts, they appeared on radio (Israel had no TV until 1968) and had a huge success."

Example #2: The Golden Gate Quartet - Swing Down Sweet Chariot

SyberkaPL Uploaded on Apr 7, 2009

Live from Yugoslavia in 1967.
From left: Caleb Ginyard Jr., Orlandus Wilson, Clyde Riddick, Clyde Wright
Selected comments from this video's discussion thread:
GiveMeBlackandWhite, 2009
"This is SO fabulous. Thanks so much for posting. Elvis Presley must have listened to them A LOT, because many of his Gospel songs sound just like the GGQ's version. Gospel music was so personalized in its style, and Elvis sings it just like these guys (and not like others), that he MUST have liked them a lot!"

sergetm75, 2009
in reply to GiveMeBlackandWhite
"Elvis met the guys in Paris while he was in the army, at the Casino de Paris. They spent a few hours jamming backstage. I imagine that he must have heard them before, but it's probably where & when the idea of his 1st gospel album (his hand in mine) took place. ALL of the arrangements are exactly the GGQ's. And the same goes for How Great thou Art 1967. Anyway, they are both great. Also listen to the Mills Brothers from the 30s, the GGQs must have listened to that a bit too !"

Phil Silverman, 2009
in reply to sergetm75
"Good call! Elvis was really paying tribute to Gospel Quartets on those 2 gospel albums."

rockyrmt, 2011
in reply to GiveMeBlackandWhite
"@GiveMeBlackandWhite Agreed - fabulous . Elvis must have been exposed to this Southern Gospel Music (from the Golden Age of Gospel) from childhood, considering he was raised in the Bible Belt region of the USA. They sound so similar is sound and style. His first Gospel Album, His hand in mine is a very good example of this. Also the Sun Studio recordings from the 50s."

Thomas Owens, 2012
in reply to GiveMeBlackandWhite
"Elvis was also influenced by James "Big Chief" Wetherington of the Statesmen Quartet."
The Statesmen Quartet was a White Southern Gospel Quartet. More information about that group is given in Part II of this pancocojams series.

LeonellGT, 2010
"Not only Elvis Presley was listening to the Golden Gate Quartet. Soul Brother No. 1, the late great James Brown also mentioned them as a great musical influence."

This completes Part I of this series.

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