Concerned for the fate of this music, Darden wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in February 2005 about how gospel music has influenced today’s contemporary hits, how new gospel releases sell millions of copies today and how, when he plays snippets of the old music during radio interviews, the public clamors for more.
“It would be more than a cultural disaster to forever lose this music,” Darden wrote. “It would be a sin.”
Such passion inspired Charles Royce, a businessman from Connecticut to call Darden. He wanted to know what could be done to change this course.
Darden submitted a proposal to Royce that involved not only digitizing the music, but preserving ephemera like photos, liner notes, record jackets and other accompanying material.
On Jan. 1, 2006, Royce approved the proposal and pledged $350,000 to support the project.
Royce is president and chief investment officer of Royce & Associates, LLC, and president of The Royce Funds. Though unfamiliar with Baylor, he was motivated to support the project because he recognized the need and was impressed by Darden’s zeal.
Royce’s gift will allow Baylor University to identify, acquire, clean, digitize and catalogue black gospel music and the accompanying ephemera as part of the Charles M. Royce Black Gospel Music Restoration Project.
“With our outstanding School of Music, our premier library facilities and our Christian heritage, Baylor University is the perfect institution to spearhead this project,” said John M. Lilley, president of Baylor. “We can provide the tools, the knowledge and the enthusiasm necessary to preserve this treasured past.”
“Preserving these historic recordings will be a service for our nation and the world,” said Bill Hair, interim library dean.
Darden agrees, pointing out that every day historic materials are slipping away.
Never was that more apparent than this past January, when the historic Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago was destroyed by fire.
Thomas Dorsey, considered to be the father of gospel music, was music director there from 1932 to the 1970s. Dorsey’s greatest hit was “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” a song popularized by Mahalia Jackson that became a favorite of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Much of the memorabilia of Thomas Dorsey was still there—a lot of the sheet music he wrote, some of his 400 original gospel songs, irreplaceable photos and files,” Darden said.
“What we’re doing now may be the last chance we have in this country to save the majority of these songs. When it’s gone, it’s gone. The fire was just further proof that this needs to be done now. Every day is a day too late.”