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The Ministry of Music – Part 4

A song has the ability to minister to one’s very soul, whether that soul is in turmoil or searching for clarity.

Renaldo “Obie” Benson, bass singer for legendary singing group the Four Tops, was on tour with the Four Tops in May of 1969 in Berkeley, CA. It was in Berkeley that he saw the unrest and the violence being unleashed by police on anti-war protesters in People’s Park.

Obie began to ask himself some soul probing questions. Why are they sending children so far away from their families to fight this war? Why are the police attacking their own children? What’s going on here?

Obie discerned that if authorities, people in charge, would attack white children/teenagers, then they would do much worse to Black children.

It was from this moment that he began writing the song “What’s Going On?”

He partnered with Al Cleveland to polish his thoughts and original words to the song and then took it to members of his group to sing, but they turned it down.

Obie then took the song to Joan Baez; she too declined.

Finally, he took the song to Marvin Gaye, who at first thought the song would be good for the group he was managing, “The Originals,” but Obie told Marvin he would only give the song to him if he sang it.

Marvin Gaye reflected on conversations he had with his brother Frankie, who had returned home after a three-year tour of duty in Vietnam.

Marvin at the time also had a cousin by the same name, killed in Vietnam. His death impacted him greatly and, along with what Gaye had seen in the Watts’ uprising, it caused him to ask himself the question, “how can I keep singing love songs with the world exploding all around me?”

This was how the classic album and title song came into being. It still touches the souls of millions because it ministers to the misery of people who in the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “have eaten in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots.”

Again, a song has the ability to minister to one’s very soul whether that soul is in turmoil or searching for clarity.

A blues musician with the stage name of Georgia Tom, who became famous playing with Ma Rainey’s band, came to a moment in his life of crisis and soul torture.

Georgia Tom married Nettie Harper who wanted him to move away from blues and play in the church. However, Georgia Tom realized that playing in the church would not support him and his wife, and he kept playing gigs with blues musicians to support his family. He had to go on the road for a gig but his pregnant wife implored him to stay home.

Georgia Tom felt he had to make the money for both of them to survive and he went to play out of town anyway. He was in the midst of playing when he received an urgent telegram from his wife imploring him to come home now.

He tried to get home as soon as he could but when he arrived home, he was informed that his dear wife had died while giving birth to their son and days later his son died also.

He went into a deep depression, with thoughts of suicide, and vowed to not play again.

It was at least two years after the tragedy that scarred his soul that a friend helped him move back into music, and with his heart still aching from the death of his dear wife and son, Thomas Dorsey penned the words to a song that has stirred millions of souls because it is a passionate plea to God from a heart that life has broken, “Take my hand, precious Lord.”

From that point on Dorsey committed his gifts to God and became the minister of music for the historic Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago. His music became the genesis of what has come to be known as Black Gospel music.

A song has the ability to minister to one’s very soul, whether that soul is in turmoil or searching for clarity.

What song comes to your mind when life knocks the life out of you?

What music ministers to your soul when the storms of life rock the boat of your life?

What tune touches the deep fabric of your spirit when your heart has been torn to pieces?

Africans living in America have offered the ministry of music to the world from tortured souls that have been transformed by the ministry of music.

Be well, Uhuru Sassa, my beloved!

Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; we are unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.” Contact the church by email at [email protected] or by phone at 219-944-0500.

Knowing The Truth - Part I
Rev. John E. Jackson

Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; we are unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.”

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