A FEW MINUTES WITH… Gospel Queen Dorothy Norwood
By Don Wilcock
With 53 albums (five of them certified gold), nine Grammy nominations and a career that spans more than 60 years, the Queen of Gospel Music Dorothy Norwood has performed with everyone from Mahalia Jackson to the Rolling Stones.
“Mick Jagger picked my records because he told me actually when I got on the road, ‘I love your stories,’” says the 82-year-old gospel legend who headlines the seventh annual Gospel Jubilee at Proctors in Schenectady on Friday (April 20). She will be backed by both the Union College Heavenly Voices Gospel Choir and the Gospel Jubilee Mass Choir led by Musical Director Reverend Elgin Joseph Taylor, Sr. It isn’t with the slightest amount of hyperbole for me to say this will be gospel on steroids. The degree of sheer faith-charged power here is almost beyond imagination.
“It’s been a long journey, but it’s been a wonderful journey,” says this gospel icon who has been called the world’s greatest story teller. She began her career in 1956, singing with Mahalia Jackson, Reverend James Cleveland and one of the greatest female gospel groups of all time, The Caravans.
She recalls her first meeting with Mahalia Jackson, who is to gospel what Robert Johnson is to blues. A friend introduced her to the audience at a Mahalia Jackson concert in Chicago. “Gloria had remembered me singing in Atlanta and all those little towns, and she said, ‘There’s a young lady here from Atlanta, Georgia. Let her sing her song. She can really sing.’ And I sang “Just Tell Jesus, Tell Him All.” That’s the way Chicago was. If anybody had some talent, they’d give them a chance to sing a song on the program. When the concert was over, I was standing in line to shake Mahalia Jackson’s hand. She saw me from the aisle and said, ‘Don’t you go nowhere. I want to see you.’ I said, ‘I’ll be right here because I came all the way to Chicago from Atlanta. I’m right here to see you.’ And when I got up there, she looked at me. She said, ‘Girl, do you want to go on the road and sing with me?’ I said, ‘Yes, ma-am.’”
She opened for The Stones’ 30-city tour of North America in 1972. Jagger and the boys stood at the door of their dressing room and watched her perform every night. When she got the telegram asking her to call Mick Jagger, she thought it was a prank. “I really did. Why does he notify me? Why me? And when I called New York, they said, ‘Yes, Mick Jagger would like for you to go on the road and open up for them on their 30-day tour.’ Every night when we opened up they’d come and stand in that door and wait until I finished telling those stories. And the first story was ‘Johnny and Jesus’ ’cause that was my very first story, and he loved it. I’d have to tell it every night.”
Norwood’s story songs are the praise equivalent to the Stones’ most energetic rockers and elicit every bit as much positive energy with their testimonies to the power of God.
One YouTube comment responding to “The Storm Is Almost Gone” said, “Thank you, Jesus, for your grace and mercy. It was days (that) I lost all my faith. I thought Jesus forgot about me, but he just wanted me to trust in him and stop trying to figure things out. Thank you, Jesus, for loving me. He was always with me in spite of all my bothers and trials and sickness.”
I asked Dorothy how she felt about her fans’ response to her inspirational songs which can border on an out-of-body experience. “When you see this opening up before your very eyes, it brings you to tears, and I tell everybody what I have is a gift. It’s nothing that I created. God moved me to do these things, to sing these stories and what is always so amazing to me is how I went to Chicago out of all those good singers up there that night, and Mahalia Jackson chose me because she heard something in me. I didn’t think I could sing, but everybody always chose me.”
Billed as the largest continuing gospel celebration in the Capital Region, the Gospel Jubilee will also feature a special performance by Albany jazz great Stefon Harris, who will perform in honor of his grandfather, legendary Albany radio personality Edward “Pee Wee” Harris. Vibraphonist Stefon Harris is at work on a new album, Sonic Creed, due in the fall. He is a recipient of the prestigious Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center, has earned four Grammy nominations and has been named Best Mallet Player eight times by the Jazz Journalist Association. He was also chosen Best Vibes in the 2013 and 2017 Downbeat Magazine Critics Poll, the 2016 Jazz Times Expanded Critics Poll, the 2014 Jazz Times Critics Poll.
WHAT: The Seventh Annual Gospel Jubilee
WHO: Dorothy Norwood, Stefon Harris, the Union College Heavenly Voices Gospel Choir, the Capital Region Jubilee Mass Choir, the Jubilee Praise Dancers with musical director Reverend Elgin Joseph Taylor, Sr.
WHERE: Proctors, Schenectady
WHEN: Friday (April 20), 7pm
HOW MUCH: $25