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Vol. 22, No. 2: Summer 2016

Superstar Reverend J. M. Gates and Working Class Black Uplift

by Marko Maunula

“‘I never did see Decatur Street with an ice pick, with a pistol . . . But I saw men and women walking up and down the street—ice picks, and pistols, and knives—and then talk about the street. The street ain’t never cut nobody’s throat. It was you! It was you!'”

Reverend J. M. Gates of Atlanta’s Rockdale neighborhood was a superstar Black preacher in a city full of Black clergy. During his heyday in the 1920s and ’30s, Gates produced a steady stream of sermons on national and popular record labels, selling hundreds of thousands of copies nationwide to black audiences thirsting to hear outstanding “straining preachers”: strong, melodic, fire and brimstone, get down–style pastors. From 1926–1941, Gates put out more than 200 sides on 78 rpm discs, recording in Atlanta as well as Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Memphis, and South Carolina.

This article appears as an abstract above, the complete article can be accessed in Project Muse
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