What is Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project?
Since 2008, a “search and rescue mission” has been underway in the basement of Moody Library. A true labor of love, this work has found its way into dusty tape and record collections, made friends with unsung heroes of the civil rights movement, been featured extensively in national media, and even has a home in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
We’re talking about Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, a collection dedicated to preserving historic sounds that were in danger of being lost for good: classic black gospel music from the “Golden Age of Gospel.” This hidden Baylor gem ensures that the music that provided the soundtrack to the civil rights movement and blessed listeners for generations avoids extinction. So far, more than 2,000 rare pieces have been loaned or donated to the project.
Here’s how it came to be: Baylor journalism professor Bob Darden, BSEd ’76, is a lifelong fan of black gospel music. He’s written three seminal books on the history and impact of the music, and in his research for those books, he developed a burden.
“When you talk to participants in the civil rights marches,” Darden told the Washington Post, “what they want to talk about is the music.” But time was beginning to threaten the preservation of that music, much of which was on old records and tapes. Records could warp, and tapes could be easily lost; without someone to care for it, much of the music would be gone forever.
In a heartfelt 2005 New York Times essay titled “Gospel’s Got the Blues,” Darden pleaded, “It would be more than a cultural disaster to forever lose this music. It would be a sin.” Philanthropist Charles Royce agreed, and from their partnership came the Black Gospel Restoration Project.
The way it works is simple: Owners of black gospel music could send in their tapes and records, which would be preserved at Baylor in digital form, ensuring it would continue to live on. Its impact, however, has grown far beyond library basements and the Baylor campus it calls home.
Music fans, journalists, scholars, museums and more have taken note. Most notably, when the Smithsonian Institution opened the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on the National Mall in 2016, selections from the project were included in an permanent exhibit. That Smithsonian recognition, Darden says, “confirms that the top historians and top archivists in the world value our contribution; that what we’re doing is important, that it matters, that it is precious and priceless and irreplaceable. It doesn’t get much better than that!”
How can you participate in the project? In addition to their spot at the NMAAHC, classic black gospel tracks from the project are available online as part of Baylor Libraries’ Digital Collections. Wondering where to start? Check out what Darden calls the “Heaven 11” — the 11 most influential black gospel songs — in this Spotify playlist.
Sic ’em, Black Gospel Music Restoration Project!