B. C. & M. Choir: Hello Sunshine

There is little doubt that HELLO SUNSHINE remains the most unusual and, perhaps, least known album in the three-decade history of CTI Records.

By early 1972, Creed Taylor had built CTI Records into the premiere independent jazz label, attracting the art’s greatest practioners (Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine and George Benson) and producing some of the era’s most defining records.

His Kudu Records label, launched only months before in July 1971, also issued a steady stream of catchy soul jazz records with solid sales that helped build the whole company (and the renown of Grover Washington, Jr.).

Here, producer Creed Taylor had come up with the unique idea of combining a jazz soloist and a gospel choir. Hank Crawford was to be the soloist and Creed Taylor had selected Nashville’s B. C. & M. Choir as the saxophonist’s accompaniment. It was unusual for the producer to locate talent outside of New York City. But the B. C. & M. Choir was special.

Formed in the late 1960s, the B. C. & M. Choir was originally founded as a community choir that reflected the diversity in the South Nashville community. Even the group’s name, though never spelled out, stood for the joining of many churches from the “Baptist, Catholic & Methodist” denominations.

“The choir,” producer Shannon Williams recalls, “was started as an activity for the youth and church oriented  ‘young at heart’ citizens of the South Nashville community. Many members came from the housing projects of South Nashville. It was really something to get involved in since there was not much recreation available to the Black Youths in those days.”

The Choir became popular in Nashville’s churches and a local promoter and radio personality by the name of Brother Henry Edwards brought the Choir to the attention of Shannon Williams’s Nashboro Records in 1968. Williams produced the Choir’s first record in June 1968 and recorded the Choir – and smaller portions of the Choir on many other recordings. Their most popular recording, “I Made A Vow,” featured lead singer Regina McCrary, daughter of the late Rev. Samuel McCrary (lead singer of the famed Fairfield Four), who was 13 at the time and went on to sing background with such greats as Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder.  

The B. C. & M. Choir quickly found itself in demand as a first-call studio group too. “I was constantly being contacted by other labels and producers,” Williams relates, “to provide gospel voices for sessions.”

The Choir can be heard on Ray Stevens’s million seller, "Everything Is Beautiful," as well as sessions by singer Johnny Cash (Columbia), pianist Floyd Cramer (RCA) and several other Country music acts. Numerous television appearances followed, including appearances on Dinah Shore’s "Going Home" (featuring Jack Benny and Burt Reynolds) and backing Dolly Parton on a special that included Lucille Ball and the Fisk University Black Mass Choir, and an appearance in Robert Altman’s film NASHVILLE

The choir also recorded prolifically for the small Nashville-based Creed label (which has nothing to do with Creed Taylor, including LOOK HOW FAR WE HAVE COME, GOD’S WILL, DRAW ME CLOSER, LIVE, MY SWEET LORD) and in May 1972 was invited by producer Creed Taylor to make the trek from Nashville (by bus!) to Rudy Van Gelder’s Cathedral-like recording studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to participate in an intriguing fusion of Black Gospel and Jazz music. Don Sebesky, CTI’s house arranger at the time, was invited to bring the two worlds together.

However, the Gospel pull was too strong to be overcome by Jazz. Indeed no real jazz content or jazz soloist is featured anywhere on HELLO SUNSHINE. The most prominent player outside of the choir and its soloists is the organist – the choir’s own Gerry Waddell Jones, who passed away in early 2001 – and received absolutely no credit for his prominent role on the original LP’s jacket.

The rhythm section features first-call New York session men including bassist Gordon Edwards (who bumps and thumps in signature style through “He Abides”) and guitarist Cornell Dupree (who, with Edwards, went on shortly after to form half of the super group, Stuff) along with funky drummer Bernard Purdie.

Don Sebesky laid over some sparse and soulful horn parts that featured such CTI all-stars as Joe Farrell on tenor sax, Hank Crawford on baritone sax (not alto sax!) and Hubert Laws on alto sax (not flute!) – all sounding far less than their usual distinctive selves here.

The music on HELLO SUNSHINE was all chosen by the choir – one of the reasons so many artists have always liked working with Creed Taylor. Some of the material had been performed by the group on previous recordings (“Hello Sunshine”) and some of it was all new. It’s a cohesive testament to the spiritual and sanctifying power of Gospel music.

Jazz fans, however, may find little here to connect with. Even Shannon Williams was surprised with the lack of jazz heard on these sides. However, certain passages stand out for jazz fans. Note Bernard Purdie’s signature funk-isms on “Hello Sunshine.” Or Gordon Edwards’s bumping bass work – and Don Sebesky’s wicked horn breaks – on both “He Abides” and “Climbing Up The Mountain.” And odds are you’ve never heard “Amazing Grace” rock this hard – or this funky (something that looks back on the Staple Singers as much as it prefigures the Pointer Sisters).

Unfortunately, the Salvation experiment didn’t fare too well for CTI or the B.C. & M. Choir. CTI collectors didn’t know what to make of it and Gospel fans outside of New York City probably never even knew the record existed. Chances are, all 10 copies of this record are difficult – if not impossible – to find. That’s what makes the return of HELLO SUNSHINE such a revelation.

Creed Taylor opted to discontinue the Salvation label until 1974 – never offering a contract to the B. C. & M. Choir – when he chose the imprint as a secular way to feature records by CTI artists that were produced outside of Creed Taylor’s purview (Airto’s VIRGIN LAND, Johnny Hammond’s GAMBLER’S LIFE, New York Jazz Quartet’s IN CONCERT IN JAPAN and Gabor Szabo’s MACHO).

Taylor later resurrected the Salvation label to issue THE POWER THE GLORY AND THE MUSIC (1982), a collection of previously-issued CTI music alluding to gospel themes featuring Stanley Turrnetine, Nina Simone and Hubert Laws, and once more to issue Faith Howard and Visions' strong, but little known gospel CD, HE’S GOT EVERYTHING (1996).

The B. C. & M. Choir –also known as the B. C. & M. Mass Choir – continued to record for the Creed label well into the early 1980s, later finding a hit in "I Made A Vow." The Choir eventually disbanded, unfortunately reuniting only upon the death of a Choir member.

Copyright 2002 Douglas Payne. All rights reserved.
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