Hidden History: Baylor University’s Black Gospel Restoration Project

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It is a one-of-a kind restoration project you can only find here in Waco.

A Baylor professor, along with a dedicated team, is taking on the ambitious undertaking of locating and digitizing records from the Golden Age of Black Gospel Music – a collection of music believed to be lost forever.

Between the 1940’s and the 1970’s, the Golden Age of Black Gospel Music was slowly beginning to fade away – until Baylor Professor Robert Durden decided to save it.

“Most of the music I was writing about I couldn’t hear. It wasn’t available,” Durden says. “So I met with some collectors, and we came out with a figure of about 75 percent of gospel music – from gospel’s Golden Age, which is….say 1945 to 1975, is unavailable through litigation, landfills, any number of reasons…racism.”

So Darden wrote about it – a call to action to save black gospel music in a 2005 op-ed in the New York Times.  

“And it said, ‘If we let this music disappear, future generations are going to judge us really, really  harshly,'” Darden explains.

The story got the attention of businessman Charles Royce. 

Darden quotes Royce, “I don’t know anything about gospel. I don’t know anything about you. But I’ve just done some research, and I think you’re right. You figure out how to save it, and I’ll pay for it.”

With the help of Royce and Baylor’s Digital Projects Group, the team is responsible for digitizing, imaging, preserving and curating the online presence of the collection.

“When you listen to the music, you understand how important it is to the history of this country, the history of music,” says Travis Taylor, Baylor University Digitization Specialist.

And due to their conditions, there’s a process to bringing them back to life.

“So that involves rinsing off any sort of dirt or grime that’s kind of built up on the record,” Taylor explains. “And then once the record is ready to go, ready to be transferred, we move it to one of our turntables that can do a really good job of getting a clean transfer of the record. We can actually extract the music [to] exactly how it sounded when it was played on a turntable 50 years ago.” 

With more than 14,000 items saved in digital archives, this collection is now making history.

“We have more gospel music than the Library of Congress,” Darden says. “And that’s why little old white Baylor, in the middle of Texas, provides the gospel music for the National Museum of African-American History and culture in Washington, D.C.” 

“This is an era of our history that is being forgotten,” Taylor says. “And it’s an error that I’ve learned that, it’s really been impactful – not just on the current state of music, but the current state of our country.” 

They also found another part of history related to black gospel music that also needed saving.

“And then a few years ago, we realized you can’t separate black preaching from black music or black music from black preaching, and we realized nobody was saving that either,” Darden says. “So we began systematically contacting the families of some of the greatest African-American preachers of the last hundred years to say, ‘Let us digitize the cassettes and video cassettes and audio cassettes of their sermons. And we have received things that of been underwater for a decade. We’ve received things that have been in pieces. And with this equipment, we can extract a gorgeous signal out of just about anything. Give us a chance.” 

If you have any questions or have materials which might fit into the collection, or if you would like to donate, you can send an email to digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu.

You can also head over to Baylor’s Moody Memorial Library to listen to the collection yourself.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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