Gates, Reverend J(ames) M.
- Carrie Allen Tipton
(b Hogansville, GA, July 14, 1884; d Atlanta, GA, Aug 18, 1945). American Minister and recording artist. He achieved national popularity through his recordings of sermons and sacred song, beginning in 1926 when he recorded “Death’s Black Train is Coming” for a Columbia Records field unit. Until 1941 he made more than 200 recordings for at least 20 different labels; they constituted some of the best-selling race records of the era. His sermons, roughly three minutes in length, employed the mixture of exhortation, scripture and hymn quotation, chanting, and singing that characterizes traditional black Baptist preaching. Contemporary advertisements for his recordings, illustrated with sensationalist iconography, highlighted Gates’s “stirring” and “powerful” oratory, promising buyers a “thrill that will set you tingling.” Gates occasionally recorded with male and female singers whose spoken and sung interjections simulated congregational response. Sometimes the singers sang functional harmony homorhythmically, but more often their collaborative texture was heterophonic with modal harmonies. Typical sermon topics included the afterlife, judgment, current events, and contemporary social vices. Some recordings simulated typical Baptist church events such as deacons’ meetings, occasionally incorporating what appears to be deliberate efforts at comedy or satire. Gates’s sung repertory included spirituals, Baptist long-meter hymns, 19th-century Sunday school songs, and his own songs. According to Paul Oliver, he was the only preacher that recorded extensively in the 1930s, and he possessed a higher, clearer voice relative to contemporary recorded ministers. Throughout his career, Gates pastored several black Baptist churches in Atlanta, was active in local and national Baptist organizations, and occasionally traveled to preach in other states....