SPOTIFY PLAYLIST: October 2022 by Victoria Emily Jones: This month’s thirty-track assortment includes the jaunty “Now I’m on My Way” by Howard Smith and Frederick D. Fuller, performed by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir under the direction of Carol Cymbala, and the recently released “Good Tree” by the Hillbilly Thomists, a bluegrass band of Dominican friars.
GOSPEL PERFORMANCE: “I’ve Got the Joy / It Is Summertime in My Heart / Give Me Oil in My Lamp” and “Do Lord” by The Four Girls: Did you know that Hollywood Golden Age actress Jane Russell was part of a traveling gospel music quartet, The Four Girls? In 1954, a year after starring with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she sang this medley on an Easter Sunday broadcast alongside fellow group members Connie Haines, Beryl Davis, and Rhonda Fleming (replacing Della Russell), who were Baptist, Episcopalian, and Mormon, respectively. Quite the interdenominational group! All four were active in the Hollywood Christian Group, founded in 1947 by Henrietta Mears.
That choreo, haha! And boy are they aggressive in their evangelism/catechesis of that little girl in the last number!
The Four Girls grew out of an impromptu performance at a fundraising event for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles in fall 1953. A representative of Coral Records was in the audience, and he signed the women immediately. Their recording of the spiritual “Do Lord” sold over 2 million copies.
I get a kick out of Jack Black’s hammy character performances, especially the ones that involve singing. In each of the last two movies I saw him in, he plays a strangely likeable Christian criminal based on a real-life person.
In the dark comedy Bernie (2011) by Richard Linklater, Black plays Bernie Tiede, a small-town Texas mortician who befriends a wealthy widow but, when the emotional toll of her possessiveness and persistent nagging becomes too much, ends up killing her. The opening credit sequence (which comes after a scene of Bernie teaching a class, with great tenderness, on how to prepare a deceased body for viewing) shows him driving in his Lincoln Town Car, jamming to the Florida Boys’ “Love Lifted Me” on the radio. Millennium Entertainment has released a singalong version on YouTube, featuring a take from the movie with added lyrics and a bouncing Jack Black head!
Six years after this Golden Globe–nominated performance, Black starred in The Polka King (2017) as Polish American polka legend Jan Lewan, who was imprisoned in 2004 for running a Ponzi scheme. Although he’s a con artist, the movie portrays him as sympathetic—bright-eyed, kind, gentle—and devoutly Catholic. (Yes, he really did meet the pope!) The end credits feature Black as Lewan singing “Thank You So Much, Jesus,” written by Stephen Kaminski, Maya Forbes, and Wallace Wolodarsky for the movie. The repeated “dziekuje” is Polish for “thank you.” Enjoy the accent.
SONG: “Morning Star Rise” by Josh White: Josh White is a singer-songwriter, the founding pastor of Door of Hope church in Portland, Oregon, and cofounder, with Evan Way, of Deeper Well Records. In the early 2010s he formed the neo-gospel collective The Followers, and encouraged one of his parishioners, Liz Vice, to get involved as a vocalist. She is featured on Deeper Well’s first record, Wounded Healer (2012), including on the song “Morning Star Rise”—performed live in 2012 in the video below, with White on lead. (Vice is on the left; Holly Ann is on the right.)
White recognized Vice’s musical talent and wrote a batch of songs for her to record on her own, which became her debut solo album, There’s a Light (2015)—an immense hit. Yay for pastors who notice and nurture the gifts of their people!