Meet Baylor’s nationally recognized expert on black gospel music
Signs of Baylor journalism professor Bob Darden’s influence are everywhere, from Hollywood to the Smithsonian. The work for which he’s most well-known, however, began somewhere less prestigious: the basement of Moody Library.
Darden, BSED ’76, is the founder of Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP), which does nothing less than preserve historic, culturally significant black gospel music recordings from possible extinction. Fascinated by black gospel music since childhood, Darden grew up to serve as Billboard Magazine‘s gospel music editor and write three seminal books on the subject: People Get Ready! and Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume 1 and Volume 2. While researching People Get Ready!, Darden realized just how much black gospel music, much of it on old records and obscure albums, would be lost to history if nothing was done. Enter the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project.
From its beginnings in Moody Library’s basement, the BGMRP has grown into a nationally recognized and appreciated resource. Thanks to the efforts of the project — “a search and rescue mission,” as Darden calls it — thousands of gospel songs have been preserved in digital form, ensuring that future generations will be able to access the songs that, among their many contributions, helped fuel the Civil Rights Era. His work even caught the eye of the Smithsonian Institution, which houses materials from the BGMRP in a permanent exhibit at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
In 2011, Darden won Baylor’s prestigious Cornelia Marschall Smith Award for excellence in teaching, and his black gospel music expertise has been mined by everyone from NPR to the BBC. He even hosts a weekly series called “Shout! Black Gospel Music Moments” on KWBU, Waco’s NPR affiliate, that celebrates samples from the BGMRP.
Sic ’em, Bob Darden!
(And if all that weren’t enough… Darden has also mentored Baylor student writers for nearly 30 years. In the classroom, he’s shaped journalists, novelists and screenwriters — and that’s where his Hollywood connections come in. Darden was the filmwriting professor for Hollywood duo Derek Haas, BA ’91, MA ’95, and Michael Brandt, BBA ’91, MA ’94, writers and producers of a number of films and TV shows, including the NBC hit Chicago Fire and its spinoffs. To pay tribute to Darden’s influence on their careers — and yes, to needle him just a little bit — a character named Darden dies in each of their television shows and movies.)