Elder Charles Beck
Elder Charles Beck
His work, both as an instrumentalist and live performer, however, was predominantly overshadowed by the career of Thomas A. Dorsey. Over time, nearly all of Beck's recordings have become more accessible through compilation albums. Beck was most likely born in Mobile, Alabama, sometime during 1900, although other sources list two other possible birthplaces: Georgia and Ghana. Despite his prolific presence and extensive recording experience, little is known about Beck's early life and work.
His first verified recording session took place on December 16 and 18, 1930, for Okeh Records at the King Edward Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi. For the occasion, Beck accompanied popular singing preacher Elder Curry and his congregation on piano, including "Memphis Flu", a song about the 1918 flu pandemic. According to some music historians, including David Hatch and Stephen Milward, Beck's boogie-woogie-based playing style on the record anticipated the works of many rock and roll pianists. "He may have been the best sanctified pianist", wrote Anthony Heilbut, "his playing was more legato and improvisatory than the herky-jerky ragtime of Arizona Dranes". During the 1930s, Beck became a proficient trumpet player.
His recordings in the decade represent the formative years of modern African-American gospel music; indeed, Beck's work was preceded notably only by Thomas A. Dorsey, whose career overshadowed much of Beck's accomplishments. Following World War II, Beck capitalized on the proliferation of record labels, recording with several including Chart, Eagle, Gotham, and King. Many of his sermons dealt with dramatic and humorous accounts of the "wages of sin"; his most enduring songs include "There's a Dead Cat on the Line", "Jesus, I Love You", and "Winehead Willie Put That Bottle Down". Beck was minister of the Church of God in Christ in Buffalo, New York, in the 1950s, but his talents as a musician and preacher frequently took him across the United States throughout the decade.
His services were broadcast weekly on a network of more than 30 radio stations. State University of New York professor William H. Tallmadge recorded Beck and his congregation at his church on December 30 and 31, 1956, releasing the assortment of spirituals and "holiness shouting" on the album Urban Holiness Service in 1957; The Heavenly Gospel Singers of Buffalo also make a guest appearance. The album is the last known recording of Beck's musical career. In 1960, Beck began missionary work in Ghana.
He died there in 1972. Beck's work has been compiled on several compilation albums after his death, including Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order 1930–1939. ----- The conventional wisdom is that modern African-American gospel springs from Thomas A. Dorsey and begins during the depression. However, there are figures from the formative years of contemporary gospel that appear equally important in terms of its development that have gained little, if any recognition.
One such artist was the Elder Charles D. Beck, responsible for more than 60 recordings over his lifetime for every little label under the sun. As a singing evangelist, Elder Beck appeared in tent revivals and in black churches all over the United States during his long career, and in a live context, Beck was a famous performer. He viewed recording as an essential part of his work, both as a means to spread the gospel and to establish his name.
He literally recorded whenever he could get into a studio, and also appeared extensively on radio, although little is known of his activities there. Elder Beck was born in Mobile, Alabama around 1900. He first turns up on record in December 1930, recording at the King Edward Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi for Okeh along with Elder Curry and his Congregation (including the great track "Memphis Flu," sometimes cited as a pioneer rock & roll record.) He turns up again in New York in the summer of 1937, recording solo for Decca with his own piano as "The Singing Evangelist." His piano playing is swinging and pumping in a barrelhouse idiom, but makes use of a lighter touch than had Arizona Dranes on her recordings of the 1920s. Elder Beck closed out his prewar recording career with a Bluebird session featuring a full compliment of congregation in July 1939. After the Second World War, with the rise of independent record labels, Elder Beck really hit his stride. Between 1946 and 1956, he recorded for Eagle, Gotham, King, Chart and possibly other small labels which have fallen under the radar of gospel and blues researchers.
These records are all classics: "Jesus, I Love You," which he recorded twice, bears such a strong resemblance to Elvis Presley's ballad style that it supports the idea that Beck may have been one of the preachers that Presley himself heard sing while attending black tent revival services as a child. "There's a Dead Cat on the Line," which had been recorded by the Rev F.W. McGee back in 1930, shows that Elder Beck was aware of the gospel records made by his predecessors and attempted to reinvent them in his own style -- a crucial method of operation that would become central to later gospel recording artists. Some of his recordings, such as "Wine Head Willie Put That Bottle Down" are theatrical set pieces where Beck interacts with members of his congregation in a sort of morality play.
This reaches a feverish pitch in his final 78-era release, "Rock and Roll Sermon," where Elder Beck lectures on the evils of rock & roll music to the accompaniment of a blistering rock-guitar solo and a congregation on the brink of ecstasy. There's literally nothing else like it on this earth. Elder Beck's final recording was a full-length LP, Urban Holiness Service, made in December 1957 for Folkways. This was an entire service recorded at the Church of God in Christ in Buffalo, NY. The folk collectors who recorded it may not have been aware of how well-entrenched already the Elder was in terms of recording, but during this service Elder Beck literally pulls out all the stops, playing piano, trumpet, vibes, organ and drums at various times.
As in his 78 records like "Shouting with Elder Beck" and "What Do You Think About Jesus," Elder Beck maintains a tremendously exciting pace and keeps the congregation at a level of high energy and involvement. He must've been an extremely compelling performer in person. After 1960, Americans saw increasingly less of Elder Beck, as he was involved in overseas missionary work, primarily in Ghana. He is believed to have died there sometime around 1972. Two of his documented recordings, issued on Eagle 101 and 104, have still not been located.
While Elder Beck is still all but unknown to experts on blues and gospel, within his own milieu he remains a celebrity artist, and sales of his reissued recordings remain strong to this day. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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