Julia Doyle - vocals; Proffessor Herman Stevens - organ; unknown - piano; Master of Ceremonies - Doc Wheeler
George Wein, the jazz impresario behind the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival (which began in 1954 and 1959 respectively), is responsible for showcasing younger, older, and rediscovered jazz, blues, and folk musicians alike. However, his vision also included adding complementary elements to the festivals, which presented leading and lesser-known figures from the regular Newport Festival programs at morning and afternoon workshops on the festival grounds.
By the time of the 1959 festivals (the year the Newport Folk Festival was launched) one of these complementary elements had become a Sunday morning workshop spotlighting gospel music. Prior to this, the richest expression of gospel music had primarily been relegated to churches and was intrinsically bound in the development of fundamentalist religion within the southern Afro-American communities. The Newport workshops broke ground by presenting gospel music in a non-secular environment.
Although many of the artists featured were strictly gospel singers, crossover performers like the Swan Silvertone Singers and Dorothy Love Coates were also included, exposing the young, primarily northern white audience to the primarily southern black gospel artists in an intimate setting. In doing so, the festivals provided many northern white listeners with their first exposure to traditional gospel music.
With the help of legendary producer John Hammond and with respected musician and popular disc jockey, Doc Wheeler serving as master of ceremonies, they gathered many of the most impressive gospel singers on a single stage. At a time when soul music hadn't yet developed into a genre of its own, the energy, earthiness, and earnestness of these gospel performances made for an enthralling listening experience.
Here, we present in near entirety, the Sunday, July 5th Gospel Workshop presented at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival. Not only did the 1959 presentation feature a world-class overview of gospel singers, but it also included Professor Herman Stevens accompanying all the acts on organ. One of the best organists in gospel, having served on countless Savoy Records recording sessions, Stevens' presence adds continuity and authenticity to the already impressive lineup.
The fifth performance at the Gospel Workshop features Julia Doyle. Born in New Orleans, Doyle's gospel career began in 1933 at age 10. As a teenager, she established her reputation as a member of the Gayle Jubilee Singers, appearing coast to coast in Gospel Festivals. As a young woman she relocated to New York City where she sang with numerous national gospel acts at the Apollo in Harlem and as a member of Abundant Life Tabernacle Baptist Church in the Bronx. Doyle was a powerful solo singer with a distinct southern blues flavor to her style, and as Doc Wheeler's introduction attests, she was capable of delivering "the best sermon in the world presented musically."
Doyle begins her set with a classic Reverend Brewster number, "I'm Getting Nearer My Home," a song of triumph popularized by Mahalia Jackson. With Herman Stevens' organ comes a more somber church feel, but when the piano and vocal emerge, it's immediately apparent that Doyle's southern blues roots run deep. This, and the "I'm So Happy In My Home" which follows, provide Doyle the opportunity to build from a slow burn to an ecstatic conclusion, with room for improvisation, hand clapping, and giving an immediacy and spontaneity to performance. Taking a more reverent turn, Doyle concludes with an eloquent and moving rendition of the hymn, "It's Real," that stands as one of the most inspired performances of the entire gospel program that day.