Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism and the Phonograph 1890-1900: Various Artists

Here’s one for collectors and history buffs. In the late 19th century, prior to the advent of amplifiers, music and other sounds were recorded onto quickly decaying wax cylinders or shellac discs, which included the first commercially available recordings. The Archeophone record label today specializes in restoring and releasing those recordings on Compact Disc. Previous sets included recordings of, for instance, John Philip Sousa’s band, or a speech by Booker T. Washington. Archeophone’s most recent release is a box set of contemporary Christian music—contemporary to the turn of the previous century, that is. This 3 disc, 102 track set includes nearly one full CD from Ira Sankey, the first superstar of Christian recording, who courted controversy as D.L. Moody’s music director by mixing sacred messages with pop music. Sound familiar? Hearing now-hoary chestnuts like “In the Sweet By and By” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” when they were still considered cutting-edge compositions gives one something of a chill and a sense of connection to the campground meetings and revival halls where they became part of the standard church repertoire. Sure, you’ve heard Fanny Crosby’s now-ubiquitous songs. But have you heard her voice, or that of D.L. Moody? Recordings of this vintage have all the imperfections you’d expect (hiss covers the face of the deep in the earliest known recordings of Haydn’s “Creation” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”), but most of these tracks are still eminently listenable. Better yet, the set includes a 400 page Richard Martin book detailing the history of the songs and their times.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.