The Gay Family Gospel Music Experience
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The Gay Family Gospel Music Experience


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"Soulful Sounds Review"

In the 1950s and 60s, the Gay Sisters – vocalist Mildred, vocalist/pianist Evelyn, and pianist Geraldine – used their spirited singing and keyboard work to set the atmosphere for the brimstone – scorched imprecations of their younger brother Donald, then known as “The Boy Preacher.” Geraldine dubbed “The Errol Garner of Gospel,” is credited with pioneering the infusion of elements borrowed from jazz and R&B into modern-day gospel piano, much as Sister Rosetta Tharpe updated the guitar during more or less the same era. In 2004, the Chicago-based label The Sirens released In The Right Hands, which featured Geraldine, Jessy Dixon, and Nash Shaffer Jr., along with Donald and the Gays' nephew Gregory Gay Jr. That disc re-ignited interest in the Gays, and Geraldine and Donald – who hadn't recorded together since 1967 – have begun to perform more frequently in the wake of its success.

Geraldine's two-fisted dexterity is virtually undiminished; her brother's voice, though it may have lost some of its youthful fire, remains sure and deeply expressive. On this set, which consists primarily of well-known gospel standards, they sound relaxed and confident; they convey as much fervor with subtle nuance as others do with housewrecking emotionalism. And it's all delivered with an irrepressibly good-humored elan, aided by the easy-rolling swing of drummer Curtis Fondren and alternately, bassists Yosef Ben Israel and Anderson Edwards.

Traditionalists raised on sterner faith might raise their eyebrows at that hip swagger; this is about as far from fire and brimstone as gospel music can get. Eyes Have Not Seen, originally a solemn admonition to remain spiritually steadfast in the face of worldly disappointment, sounds here almost like a Depression-era “better days are coming” pop bauble; the Gays even recast the harrowing admonition There Is A Fountain (“there is a fountain filled with blood”) as a gently propulsive, almost lilting testimonial.

But theirs is a faith born of compassion and understanding, rather than judgement; it acknowledges this life as gracefully as it promises eternal blessings in the next. As such it provides a welcome corrective to the moralizing that too often passes for mainstream religious discourse these days. In its own low-key way, the return of the Gays as a gospel powerhouse is proving to be as historic and inspiring as the resurgence of Jody Williams was in the blues world a few years ago. - Living Blues

"The Real Deal in Gospel Music"

If you don't know about the Gay Family, you don't know gospel.

The Chicago-based Gays – Mildred, Evelyn, Geraldine, and Donald in particular – are products of the Church of God in Christ and have been on the frontline of gospel music for decades. The original Gay Sisters (Mildred, Geraldine and Evelyn) had a monster gospel hit in 1951 with “God Will Take Care of You.” They recorded enough singles for Savoy in 1951 to fill an album later in the decade. Evelyn even accompanied Mahalia Jackson on piano from time to time.

Far from being one-hit wonders, the Gays were sought after to participate on gospel programs in Chicago and throughout the country. They continued to record long after their Savoy sessions, delivering the goods for labels such as Decca, Chess, Rush, Faith, B & F, Davis, and Hummingbird. Donald “Preacher” grew up and joined the group in the late 1950s and 1960s, when it was known as the Gay Singers.

Since Evelyn and Mildred have passed on, Donald and Geraldine are the ones who represent the family on Soulful Sounds. And it isn't the first time The Sirens has featured the brother and sister duo. The Gays made their The Sirens debut on In the Right Hands, a Chicago gospel keyboard project that also featured Jessy Dixon and Nash Shaffer, Jr. Clearly, their talent warranted an entire project.

What will strike you while listening to Soulful Sounds is how tenuous are the marketing monikers that slice and dice music into categories. For example, on the opening track, “This May Be the Last Time,” Geraldine plays as if she were with a jazz combo, and Donald sounds like blues shouters Joe Williams and Jimmy Rushing. In reality, what we hear on Soulful Sounds is gospel as a youngster in the 1930s and 1940s, a time when some criticized gospel musicians for “jazzing the hymns.” Listen to some of Sallie Martin's late '40s recordings for Capitol and you'll hear the same kind of sophisticated jazz combo backing.

Also noteworthy is how Donald's distinctive voice hasn't changed with time. He sounds the same on this CD as he did on singles he and Evelyn recorded in the 1960s.

The song selection on Soulful Sounds is entirely old school, with classics such as “Eyes Have Not Seen,” “Tell The Angels,” “There is a Fountain,” and “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again.” Pay special attention to the strutting “Sing On My Singer,” included here as a tribute to Mahalia Jackson. Donald's vocals go with Geraldine's barrelhouse piano style like bacon and eggs. It's the finest cut on the CD.

The Gays are accompanied by Yosef Ben Israel, Gregory Gay (the next generation), Donald “Bozie” Hambric, Anderson Edwards, and Curtis Fondren, the latter who puts his Fellowship M.B. Church training to work by giving the Gays a pulsing backbeat when the music and the spirit dictate.

What a treat it is to hear great musicians from a legendary gospel family given The Sirens' trademark crystal clear production. It's as if you are sitting in a church, enjoying a Sunday afternoon musicale on Chicago's south side. - The Black Gospel Blog


New York City, NY, March 1951
US12667 God Will Take Care Of You Savoy 4025
US12668 I'm Goin' To Walk Out In His Name Savoy 4025
US12669 I'm A Soldier Savoy 4027
US12670 The Little Old Church Savoy 4046

New York City, NY, May 1951
GS6654 It's Real Savoy 4043
GS6655 That's What I Like About Jesus Savoy 4046
GS6656 He Knows How Much We Can Bear Savoy 4037
GS6657 God Shall Wipe All Tears Away Savoy 4031

New York City, NY, July 1951
GS6658 Only Believe Savoy 4043
GS6659 God Is On Our Side Savoy 4027
GS6660 We're Gonna Have A Good Time Savoy 4031
GS6661 Oh Lord, Somebody Touched Me Savoy 4037

All of the Savoy sides, except "The Little Old Church" have also been released on Savoy LP 14021, called "God Will
Take Care Of You".

-- If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again Regent LP 6080

New York City, NY, March 1955
87565 Oh Lord Won't You Have Mercy Decca 29939, Decca 48335
87566 Take The Lord Along With You* Decca 29939, Decca 48335

* As by Gay Sisters with Sister Fanny Gay and Preacher Gay

Evelyn Gay

Chicago, IL, c. 1955
127 I Shall Not Be Moved (Now Let Me Tell You) P.E.A. 2019
128 Lord My Faith Look Up To Thee P.E.A. 2019

c. 1960
U-1372 On My Way To Heaven B and F 1351
-- Tell It B and F 1351

* As by Evelyn Gay & The Gay Sisters

Chicago, IL?, c. 1964
-- All Around Davis 104
-- Shine On Me Davis 104
BD-110-A Heavenly Home Davis 110
BD-110-B Coming Home Davis 110
-- Saint's Marching Davis 118
-- The Lord Moves In Mysterious Ways Davis 118

c. 1965?
MM554 God Promised To Provide Faith 940
MM555 Oh You Don't Know Like I Know Faith 940
-- Jubilee Joy Faith (n.n.)
-- From The Depths Of My Soul Faith (n.n.)

* Faith 940 as by Evelyn Gay & The Pilgrim Outlets, Faith (n.n.) as by Sister Evelyn Gay.

-- I Must Tell Jesus* Hummingbird 265
-- While I Run This Race* Hummingbird 265
H-5003-A Someday We'll Understand** Hummingbird 286
H-5003-B Lord, I'm Gonna Love You Till I Die** Hummingbird 286

* as by Evelyn Gay & Brother
** as by Evelyn Gaye

1974-1 Friends Gospel Master 205
1974-2 Well Done Gospel Master 205
GM-209-A Amazing Grace, Pt. 1 Gospel Master 209
GM-209-B Amazing Grace, Pt. 1 Gospel Master 209

Geraldine Gay / Mildred Gay

c. mid 1960s
-- Without A Song Faith 209
-- How I Got Over Faith 210

* This is one 45; 209 by Geraldine Gay, 210 by Mildred Gay

Sister Fannie Gay & Gay Singers / Donald "Preacher" Gay

c. 1968
S-2255 A New World In My View Rush 2709
S-2256 I'll Wait Till My Chance Come Rush 2709

* First title mentioned by Sister Fannie Gay & Gay Singers, second title by Donald "Preacher" Gay.

Rev. Donald Gay

Chicago, IL?, c. 1964
BD-109-A My Soul Davis 109
BD-109-B So Glad I Know Davis 109



The migration led Fannie Lewis and Jerry Gay on separate paths from Georgia to Chicago. Their paths would cross in Chicago and they married in 1922. Five children was born to this union: Evelyn (1923 - September 30, 1984), Robert (1924–1967), Mildred (1926–2002), Geraldine (born March 31, 1931), and Donald (born August 28, 1945). Jerry ran two successful furniture shops and a scrap metal business during the Depression. He was able to feed and clothe not only his family, but also other families in his segregated, underprivileged neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. Mother Gay was introduced to holiness and joined the then 25 year old Church of God in Christ denomination under Elder P R Favors, who originally served as a deacon under Bishop C H Mason. Mother Gay played the organ and served as the church's choir director. Evelyn begin taking piano lessons and would soon follow her mother as the church musician.

Fannie and Jerry were known for their hospitality and allowed Mother Katie Bell Nubin, mother of famed guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe to live with them in their home. Mother Gay asked Mother Nubin to pray that God would endow her daughters with the same musical skills as Sister Rosetta. Mother Nubin's prayers were answered when Geraldine started playing the piano without lessons at the age of 3. Evelyn developed a firm, traditional style of playing, while Geraldine cultivated a spontaneous style with dissonant chord progressions and creative passion. Evelyn met and befriended a young Mahalia Jackson in the late 30s. Through their friendship, Evelyn would become one of Jackson's first accompanists in the 1940s. The Gay family lived down the street from Reverend L C Cook, father of Sam Cooke. Evelyn would later go on to accompany Sam Cooke on his Specialty Recordings with the Soul Stirrers. Evelyn had an eye and ear for talented singers and songwriters. Her business acumen and free spirit allowed her to negotiate recording sessions thereby introducing Rev. Cleophus Robinson as well as The Staple Singers into the gospel music arena.

On Sunday nights, the Gay Sisters were featured on the radio broadcast of the famous All Nations Pentecostal Church. This church had the distinction of having a radio broadcast that was heard across the country and was led by the fiery female evangelist Elder Lucy Smith, another Georgia native. The Gay Sisters were soon in demand and being featured in concerts and musical programs across Chicago and the surrounding area. The Gay Sisters trio would travel to Los Angeles in 1948, to make their first records for the Dolphin label. They recorded “Have a Little Talk with Jesus,”backed with "The Old Rugged Cross". They continued singing throughout the Midwest and soon received an invitation to come to New York from Dr. T.S. Harden, president of the National Baptist Convention. He booked them at his church and churches throughout the East Coast. From time to time, Geraldine would join them but wasn’t a permanent member at the time. Father Jerry was extremely protective of his baby girl and didn’t want her traveling on the road since she was newly married and expecting a child.

While in New York, they met Herman Lubinsky , president of the Savoy record label. He extended an invitation for them to join the Savoy Records roster in 1950. They initially recorded as the Famous Gay Sisters. Their first session was the old hymn “God Will Take Care of You.” At the time, most traditional black church music wasn’t considered sacred unless the tempo was slow and the words were drawn out. Evelyn rearranged the song by speeding the tempo a bit and not drawing the words out. The song was a message of hope and instantly resonated with black audiences and soon became a hit. It sold an easy 100,000 copies (an astounding amount of records for any genre to sell at the time), which in today’s sales would be equal to the popularity of a platinum record.

Evelyn was a go-getter and determined to make the group appeal to as many diverse audiences as possible. Older audiences liked them because they sang hymns, and young audiences liked them because they were young and sang up tempo gospel. They even embraced the Apostolic church (The “Jesus Only” denomination that didn’t believe in
the Trinity) by recording “Walk Out in My Jesus Name,”. As a result, many Apostolic
church music ministers booked the Preacher Gay and the Famous Gay Sisters for concerts based on that one song. They continued to make gospel radio hits such as the all time gospel standard “I’m a Soldier (in the army of the Lord),” “We're Gonna Have A Time,”and “On My Way to Heaven.”

At the invitation of Mahalia Jackson, The Gay Sisters Trio, with 4 year old brother Donald appeared at the first Gospel concert in Carnegie Hall in 1951. Preacher Gay, as he was called, was given an opportunity to preach at the Holy Convocation of the Church of God in Christ at age 6. Soon after he was