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Moses Hogan poses for the cover of K-Tel's "Gospel Hits of The 70's" LP.

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Moses Hogan (March 13, 1957 – February 11, 2003)

"All good music has soul. There's soul in Mozart, soul in Bach. The only difference here is the color of the horse — the color of the voices."

 

Internationally acclaimed pianist and conductor, Moses Hogan is best known for his memorable arrangements of spirituals, and anyone who has heard or sung them can tell you that there is something categorically universal about their appeal. Widely recorded, and the foundation of the incomparable Moses Hogan Singers, these arrangements have given the world a deeper understanding of the genre, and brought it to audiences of all kinds in a fresh and vibrant light. Just a year before his untimely death in 2003, Moses published the influential Oxford Book of Spirituals, a comprehensive survey of repertoire from 1914 to 2001. 

Steal Away

Unlike most spirituals, this composition isn't anonymous. Wallace Willis, who with his wife, Minerva, walked the 400-mile "Trail of Tears" from Mississippi to Oklahoma in 1831 - not to freedom, but to further slavery in the cotton fields along the Red River - penned this (and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" among others) with the urging and assistance of Rev. Alexander Reid, an abolitionist Scottish preacher and school superintendent, who wanted to preserve the songs his students heard and loved, as sung by Wallace in the fields next to the school.

The text combines the visceral pathos of slavery, and the grotesque notion of having to "steal" oneself away from an owner, with the hope-filled promise of eventual deliverance in Jesus. As early as 1872, after Reid shared the song with The Fisk Jubilee Singers (still active today) they performed it at the White House for president Grant, and the following year in England for Queen Victoria, who specifically requested it, and is said to have sung along. The song has since been heralded world wide, and, in the words of one author, "universalized expressions of suffering and hope."

Wallace and Minerva were freed in the 1866 Reconstruction Treaty, settling near Doaksville, Oklahoma, where historians believe they are buried in unmarked graves, having never known the impact of Wallace's songs. 

My Soul's Been Anchored in The Lord

This was famously sung as a final number by the celebrated contralto Marian Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, in a concert after The Daughters of the American Revolution denied her the ability to sing inside Constitution Hall because she was Black. Her rendition, by classical composer Florence Price, of this traditional spiritual spoke plainly to those who would doubt the singers' spiritual commitment, and it kicked the white dominant,  Eurocentric ideal of concert programming squarely in the Arpeggio.

 

Moses Hogan's arrangement is a serious, but joyful romp, once again echoing the stark contrast between harsh, earthly challenges and sweet, heavenly reward.  

 

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