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A Gospel Goal: L.A. Concert Hall


Gospel music grew out of the black experience, but it's expanded across cultural and racial lines ever since. Preserving that tradition, especially during this holiday season, is the work of people like Margaret Douroux, who founded the Heritage Foundation Mass Choir in Los Angeles. She's a fervent believer that gospel music must be studied and practiced. And she sat down with NPR's Tony Cox to talk about her vision for a gospel house that will do just that.

TONY COX: Dr. Margaret Pleasant Douroux. Gospel House. I see in your face just by saying that that it brings up some really strong feelings.

Ms. MARGARET DOUROUX (Gospel Music Composer): Oh, yeah. Actually, I believe that God gave us this great, unique gift of black sacred music for the enhancement of a whole disenfranchised people. And what is happening now, there are other people trying to identify with the music is theirs. But I really believe that if black America would take this music as an investment in our black children, we would actually have some very powerful means of influencing their lives, morally and spiritually.

COX: Now, you know, there already is, for example, the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame that exists as a place that pays tribute to gospel music and those who created it. But one place is not enough?

Ms. DOUROUX: Well, one is not particularly going to work against another because what we want is a concert hall. The gospel music workshop boasts of 30,000 people that was founded by James Cleveland, whom I dearly loved and cherished. When we get ready to meet, we rent all over the country. I'm thinking what this money could have been if it had been invested in an auditorium for ourselves.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DOUROUX: I came into music through the back door. My mother and father both are documented in the Smithsonian as groundbreakers in gospel music for the East Coast. But I never dreamed of being a composer. I was contented just playing what my mother had taught me. I could read music. Finally I got a bachelor's degree in music and I came home and my daddy put me in charge of orchestra because I played "Mary had a Little Lamb" on the violin. But that first song, "Give me a Clean Heart," shocked me and shocked everybody around me because I don't know where it came from, but God poured, literally, poured "Give me a Clean Heart" in my spirit, in my soul.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DOUROUX: So he just pours this music over me, and I think the greatest joy is reliving it. Yes, being shocked again that it came through me.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DOUROX: We have a Heritage Music Foundation and our mission is to nurture and preserve the art of gospel music. What we've done is we've collected all kinds of memorabilia - 33 records and old sheet music with Thomas Dorsey on it, 35 cents on the cover - so we could have a history.

And every now and then, it makes us very excited to pull together a choir that can do some of this music along with the new music. We just finished our conference. We had people who were singing meters and teaching meters to young adults.

COX: Can you tell us what that is?

Ms. DOUROX: A meter is a lined song, a call and answer song. One person will say, I love the Lord, he heard my cry and the church automatically repeats that but in full harmony. It's hard to do without a church or a group behind you, because that's exactly what happens. I would line it out: I love the Lord, he heard my cry. And the church would say, I love the Lord. You don't remember that?

COX: Yeah, kinda.

Ms. DOUROUX: What a wonderful gift.

COX: Here's my final question. Gospel music has evolved over the centuries and it has taken on a contemporary flair here lately. Are you at all concerned? Or how do you see gospel music evolving from this point forward? And are the old meters in danger of being lost?

Ms. DOUROUX: They are in danger of being lost, but I'm not concerned about this generation of music. When we were slaves, we sung a slave song because that's what my grandmother knew. We sung street songs with Martin Luther King when we were trying to move this far by faith. You understand?

So we have synthesized music because we have these kids putting this stuff in our ears and we have to accept them where they are. It's my job to show the line of music, That old hymn, the European hymn was written, What a friend we have in Jesus. We can't sing it like that. We rare bare and sing, What a friend! You understand?

COX: I understand.

Ms. DOUROUX: So I enjoy, I'm glad that we have this line of music, because it shows all of the eras through which God has brought us.

COX: And everybody say amen.

Ms. DOUROUX: Amen. Amen.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox with award-winning gospel artist Margaret Douroux.

(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tony Cox
Tony Cox has built a distinguished career in broadcast journalism that spans three decades in television and radio.