Local author talks freedom songs and black gospel music

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WACO (January 18, 2016) On a day when the country is celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we often see people marching in the streets, holding hands and singing negro spirituals.

"Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around," "We Shall Overcome," "We Shall Not Be Moved" are songs we often hear on days like Monday the federal holiday celebrating the birthday of King.

Studying the origins of these songs, what they mean, and why people sing them has become a sort of crusade for local author and trailblazer for the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, Baylor University professor Robert Darden.

Darden has published several books discussing the link between songs the slaves sang while picking cotton on the plantations of the deep south more than a century ago and those that people sing today when an unarmed black teenager is shot and killed by a white police officer.

He says, " They are born there when African Americans would thing life is at its most desperate and most fragile, so it's bathed in blood and sacrifice and faith."

Detailing the evolution of this music and it's use during the civil rights movement, Darden said he traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to conduct interviews for his book.

" There'd be King or Shuttlesworth or Abernathy who would do a glorious 45 minute sermon then they sing for two more hours. So three hours at a spear point in American history and the most important thing you can do for two of those three hours?"

More than 20,000 songs on old vinyl gospel albums have been collected through the years.

They are digitized and stored on the Baylor campus.

" My goal all along was to share it. If everybody would hear this stuff they'd know how extraordinary it is, " says Darden.

Darden says they are extraordinary enough that people around the world sing these songs.

" They're being sung in cultures that are not Christians that are not African American. I've got clips of people singing it during the fall of the Berlin Wall. I've got people singing it during the Arab Spring in Egypt and Syria and Lebanon. All these songs continue as some kind of powerful sway."

When asked how Darden was introduced to black gospel music he said as the son of an U-S Air Force member he traveled and met so many different people.

He said one day he was at a friend's house and heard a Mahalia Jackson Christmas album and was hooked since that day.

Mahalia Jackson was an American gospel singer known for her powerful contralto voice.

She is often called "The Queen of Gospel."

Jackson was also known for participating in Freedom Movements by singing songs to motivate an already beaten and bruised crowd.

Darden says he wants to share these songs with the world and most importantly to preserve them before they are forever lost.