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The Pilgrim Jubilees

Alan Young

Publication Year: 2001

In 1960, four young men went into a Chicago recording studio and revolutionized the sound of African American gospel music. When they made that groundbreaking recording, the Pilgrim Jubilees had been singing together for more than ten years. Today they are still singing, and they are still at the forefront of gospel music.

The Pilgrim Jubilees is their story, told in their words. From their beginnings in rural Houston, Mississippi, through the good times and the hard times of more than half a century traveling the "gospel highway" they have played a pivotal role in shaping an entire musical genre. Today, based in Chicago, they stand as senior statesmen of gospel music.

The Pilgrim Jubilees know the pitfalls and hardships of their calling. They tell of arriving in a distant town so short of money they can't afford to refuel the car, then discovering their concert has been canceled. They recall singing their hearts out, then finding that the promoter has absconded with the money. They remember the days when racism meant that even a gospel singer could land in jail simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And they recount the joys of the gospel life--the elation of having a record at the top of the charts, the companionship within the group and with the people to whom they sing, and above all, the drive to keep spreading the Christian message that has sustained them through the hundreds of thousands of miles they have traveled.

And all of these elements--the highs, the lows; the successes, the failures; the spiritual, the worldly--are the subjects the Pilgrim Jubilees talked candidly and at length about to New Zealand journalist and gospel researcher Alan Young when he spent several weeks at home and on the road with them. The result--The Pilgrim Jubilees--is the first full-length book on an African American gospel quartet. It's an illuminating look at the lives of the singers and musicians in the Pilgrim Jubilees. For fifty years they have shone in a unique world where showbiz meets religion and the "Jubes" are stars.

Alan Young is a journalist in Auckland, New Zealand. He wrote Woke Me Up This Morning: Black Gospel Singers and the Gospel Life (University Press of Mississippi).

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xi

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1. Houlka, Mississippi

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pp. 3-14

Standing in the shade doesn't help when it gets hot in Mississippi. As the temperature climbs through the nineties, the air grows heavy and the summer heat attacks from all sides, radiating from every...

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2. Got to Be for Real

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pp. 15-28

It is late afternoon on the day before the homecoming program. Major Roberson sits at the small table in his motel room in Pontotoc, just north of Houlka. On the room's television set, a baseball game plays...

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3. Mississippi: Cleave Graham

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pp. 29-36

Horse Nation, Mississippi, doesn't exist today. Traces of it can be seen from the single lane gravel road—the remains of singlestory wooden buildings completely engulfed by the trees and undergrowth...

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4. Mississippi: Clay Graham

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pp. 37-44

Clay Graham is a man of contradictions. Fluent and eloquent, he was by far the most forthcoming of the Pilgrim Jubilees, willing to discuss topics—such as relationships within the group and with other performers...

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5. Chicago: Major Roberson

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pp. 45-51

Away from what Clay today describes as "our bondage—the plow and the mules," the Graham family settled into Chicago life. Columbus Graham found work in the Chicago depot of the New York Central Railroad...

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6. Stepping Out

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pp. 52-60

In 1952 the reconstituted Pilgrim Jubilee Singers were one of many local Chicago gospel quartets. They sang on any program that would have them, but the singing had to be fitted around jobs. Major was running...

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7. Third Time Lucky

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pp. 61-72

I n 1955 the Pilgrim Jubilees' initial goal of being the top local group in Chicago was effectively achieved when the Chicago chapter of the National Quartet Convention nominated them to represent it at the national gathering...

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8. Stretch Out

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pp. 73-86

Clay: "We went to Atlanta with Edna Gallmon Cooke, and Barney Parks got us a two hundred dollar guarantee. But the man [the promoter] wasn't going to pay us. Barney said, 'Well Edna's not going on until you pay them.'...

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9. The Drive

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pp. 87-98

"The drive," "the beat"—these are the phrases the senior Pilgrim Jubilees use to define the elements that make their music different. None of the group members has any formal...

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10. Bobby McDougle

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pp. 99-105

Bobby McDougle is living in a motel room. Room 152 at the Motel 6, 17214 South Halstead, on the southern outskirts of Chicago. It's not his first choice of residence—a man who sees as many motel...

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11. Ups and Downs

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pp. 106-117

The second half of the 19605 started with the Pilgrim Jubilee Singers as stars of the gospel world and ended with them struggling to survive. In 1965 "Old Ship of Zion"—song and album—ensured a...

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12. Ben Chandler

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pp. 118-124

The anniversary or homecoming is a gospel quartet's big day. For local groups, it usually marks the date the group was started; for national groups, such as the Pilgrim Jubilees, it can be a founding' date anniversary...

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13. Michael Atkins

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pp. 125-131

Rush hour traffic on the I-po and 1-94 freeways through Chicago is nose-to-tail by five o'clock in the morning. From then until well into the night, it's just a question of how busy and how clogged the...

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14. "Please Don't!"

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pp. 132-143

An underlying reason for the camaraderie among traveling professional quartets today is simply that not too many are left. Quartets are not quite an endangered species, but times have changed since the days...

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15. Cleave Graham: "Back Then"

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pp. 144-148

Cleave Graham sits at his dining-room table, his mind on the days of nearly fifty years ago, when the Jubes first started traveling. "Back then, the groups sat on the stage when the other groups...

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16. Blazing in the Blizzard

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pp. 149-161

Crying Won't Help was the last album the Pilgrim Jubilees made for Peacock. ABC-Dunhill wound the label down, and by 1976 it had ceased recording. Nashboro had shown interest in having the group back during...

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17. "We'd Have Been Up There ..."

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pp. 162-174

Although the "Blazing in the Blizzard" album sold well, Clay Graham says: "We didn't get a quarter out of it. The company went out of business. Well, they sold it to another company, then they...

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18. Houston, Mississippi: Eddie Graham

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pp. 175-181

Houston, Mississippi, seat of Chickasaw County, was founded in 1836 on an eighty-acre block given for the purpose by local land' owner Joel Pinson. A memorial stone in the town square tells...

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19. Meridian, Mississippi: Fred Rice

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pp. 182-187

Advertising and political wisdom has it that if something is said often enough, it will become the truth. The Super Inn motel, next to the I-2O in Meridian, Mississippi, defies this belief No amount...

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20. "That's the Way We Run It"

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pp. 188-198

"Srictly business" . . . "fourteen hundred for two shows" . . . "a solid job"—it's the worldly side of a spiritual business. A gospel group is a vehicle of religious expression that through its singing...

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21. Burying the Goat

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pp. 199-213

The second half of the 19805 was not a good time for the Pilgrim Jubilees to be without a recording deal. The old labels were gone; the new ones were more interested in choirs and crossover gospel...

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22. "I'm Not Perfect..."

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pp. 214-224

Cleave Graham's statement is elegant in its simplicity. "I'm not perfeet," he says, "but the one I sing about is." In that one sentence is encapsulated his abiding Christian faith, his desire to spread...

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23. Today and Tomorrow

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pp. 225-236

In Houlka, the sun has gone down. The temperature hasn't. In the high school gymnasium, the large fan by the back door is still shifting hot air, pushing it across the room until it meets the blast from the fan by...

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The Pilgrim Jubilees on Record

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pp. 237-262

This listing gives details of all Pilgrim Jubilees' recordings and videotapes. It is arranged chronologically and lists the personnel on each recording, the date— usually approximate—of the recording, the original record on which each track was issued, and as many reissues as the author has been able to trace...


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pp. 263-272


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pp. 273-287

E-ISBN-13: 9781621036265
E-ISBN-10: 1578064163
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578064168

Publication Year: 2001