Various Artists – Salute to the Masters
Featuring L.C. Cooke, Otis Clay, The Soul Stirrers, Tyrone Davis
85 minute run time
This concert video was recorded at the Mercy Seat Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago on April 22, 2001. Mixing interview segments with live performances, the video pays tribute to the rich vocal traditions of gospel music and some of its greatest singers.
The opening discussion has two of Chicago’s most celebrated vocalists, Otis Clay and the late Tyrone Davis, along with L.C. Cooke, the younger brother of Sam Cooke. Clay names Claude Jeter (Swan Silvertones), Ira Tucker (the Dixie Hummingbirds), and Julius Cheeks (Sensational Nightingales) as influences, adding that it wasn’t enough to have a powerful voice. He makes the emphatic point that the best singers were stylists, each one unique in their approach.
Once you listen to Cooke singing “God is the One” and “These are They”, you will quickly hear the similarities he shares with his legendary brother in phrasing and tone. Cooke is reverent on the first song, and then gets the audience to feel the spirit on the latter song as he delivers fervent testifying that raises the energy in a hurry as his sweet, smooth voice adopts a grittier edge. The instrumental backing is provided by Clay’s group, the Platinum Band
The next clip features Davis discussing his thoughts on Clay as a gospel singer, going on to mention that he has always felt that Clay should have been a preacher. Once Clay takes over the microphone, he proves the wisdom of Davis’s comments. He offers up a plea for a better world on “Reach Out and Touch Somebody”. The band expands to include a three piece horn section and backing vocals from three female singers. Clay’s rendition of “When the Gates Swing Open” is one of the highlights. He skillfully builds the emotional intensity, sermonizing on the glory of eternal salvation.
Another interview clip has Clay continuing to discuss his favorite gospel singers, including the famed church-wrecker Archie Brownlee of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. Then Clay ends the conversation by stating that Sam Cooke was the epitome of what a gospel singer should be, setting the standard for everyone else to strive for.
Cooke first gained famed as a member of the Soul Stirrers. The group featured in the concert consisted of the three Crume brothers – LeRoy, Arthur and Dillard – along with Justin Morris Jr., Luther Gamble and Leonard R. Walker. They tear into “Last Mile of the Way”, the lead vocal switching back and forth between Morris and Gamble, who possesses a bold, deep voice that fills the concert hall. Morris is another singer who captures the best qualities of Sam Cooke’s style, sounding right at home the standard “Touch the Hem of His Garment”. The group shares the lead vocal while expertly mixing glorious harmonies on all six of their performances, with Clay joining in on “Praying Ground”.
After commenting that he hasn’t sung in church for more than fifty years, even though his father was a preacher, Davis takes the stage backed by the Soul Stirrers for a subdued performance on “Let’s be Closer Together”. The grand finale, “That’s Heaven to Me”, brings all the vocalists to the stage, even some guests from the audience.
Shot with multiple cameras from various perspectives, this video gives viewers a good sample of the power of gospel music. It is a treat to see Clay and Davis singing for the glory of God while the Soul Stirrers segment shows that the group retained its famous sound despite the changing of members over the years. Not everyone is comfortable listening to gospel music. Be assured that there is plenty of fine singing on this project that is worth seeing and hearing no matter what the subject matter may be.