Smithsonian Folkways, 1996
Fans of Bernice Johnson Reagon’s award-winning radio series “Wade in the Water” will be delighted to see this four-CD set. Taking a historical approach, each CD spotlights one tradition and traces its development and influence. Volume one contains spirituals arranged for the concert stage; volume two examines the nineteenth-century roots of congregational singing; the last two CDs follow the history and influence of twentieth-century gospel music from the perspective of both composers and congregations. Each CD has liner notes that provide information about the performers, words to the songs, and brief essays that set the music in historical and aesthetic context. For a set determined to portray the richness of black sacred music over time and place, the lack of any recording made before the 1990s is disappointing. This does not detract from the material already present; it only leaves the listener in the enviable position of having been so moved as to thirst for more.