In an age when human connection must necessarily occur with social distancing, music has been the salvation of many people.
Gospel music, in an effort to bring hope, lift hearts, mend broken minds and remind us that we are not alone in our struggles, may not be the genre of choice. everyone, but a new record from the Richmond institution, the Ingramettes, could change that.
Living on a sharecropper’s farm in Coffee County, Georgia, Maggie Ingram’s children grew up in the harsh realities of deep Southern racism.
Like the day Ingram didn’t let the five youngsters play like she always did on Saturday mornings. It turns out that she was waiting for the deacons from her church to come and shoot the man who had been lynched nearby the night before.
“We knew this kind of racism,” says Almeta Ingram Miller, one of Ingram’s daughters.
After Ingram’s husband left for work one day and never returned, people offered to take his children in as laborers – the three boys on a farm in North Carolina, the eldest daughter in New Jersey as housekeeper – but she was determined to keep her family together. To make it happen, she sat them in a circle and, using a stick from a tree branch, beat the beat while teaching them to sing. Ingram had always been musical despite the lack of training, playing an old upright piano in the barn and later at church services.
In December 1961, Ingram packed her children and traveled to Richmond after asking her pastor to contact a bishop here to arrange accommodation and work. Arriving at the Navy Hill neighborhood home on Christmas Eve, the children were treated to their first glimpse of snow. Ingram’s new job was working for civil rights lawyer Oliver Hill Jr. and his wife. Ingram quickly joined a church, and his followers began to regularly hear Ingram’s children sing with their mother.
One person impressed with their sound was Joe Williams of the Harmonizing Four. With an upcoming show with the Soul Stirrers and Dixie Hummingbirds scheduled at the Mosque Theater, Williams asked Ingram and his kids to open the show.
“After that, we got offers from everywhere,” Miller recalls. “It’s amazing, but it’s always someone in the right place at the right time to see and hear us.”
Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes found a whole new audience when Virginia folklorist and Virginia Folklife program director Jon Lohman came to hear the band at the inaugural National Folk Festival in Richmond in 2005. “He bonded with us.” Miller says. He said, ‘We have to have you at the festival every year. “”
Mother Maggie passed away in 2015, but the band’s legacy continues with Miller taking on the role of matriarch, along with granddaughter Cheryl Yancey and stepdaughter Carrie Jackson.
“Take a Look in the Book,” the band’s new album, released on March 20 and is the first effort with Almeta at the helm. The music showcases his vision and towering vocal abilities, drawing inspiration from songs from new Appalachian sources like Ola Belle Reed, classics by Bill Withers and reworking family favorites, some of which date back to slave spirituals. For a version of Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands,” Miller added a few verses she wrote about her relationship with her own grandmother. She found out about Reed’s “I’ve Endured” when she heard him play at the Folk Festival and knew she wanted to record it. “It was like my mom’s life, so I wanted to do it in a way my mom would have.”
Produced by Lohman, a huge fan of gospel music, the goal of the record was to produce a studio album that captures the Ingramettes’ live concert experience. Too often he remembers seeing a gospel band that really turned him on live, only to be disappointed with the CD because of how watered down and processed it sounded.
“This intensity, this immediacy, this spontaneity which is really the driving force of this music has disappeared,” he says. So instead of multitracks with the members in soundproof booths, they recorded the album live at the In Your Ear Studio, with almost everything done in one take. “The group is so tight we could do it, and the ladies completely crushed it,” Lohman recalls. “Almeta’s main vocal performance is beyond epic.”
On a tour through Serbia and Bulgaria in May, the Ingramettes couldn’t walk the streets without people recognizing them.
“You would have thought we were the Rolling Stones the way the audience danced and jumped on stage,” Miller says with a laugh. On the last day of the tour, they were taken to a conservatory where a Serbian choir sang the classic “Oh, Happy Day” by Edwin Hawkins Singers for them.
However, it wasn’t as far-fetched as the group initially thought it would be.
“They told us that they love black gospel music because our struggle is so similar to the Serbian struggle for freedom,” Miller said. “Gospel music is universal.
Over the years of working with the Ingramettes, Lohman has learned never to doubt the band’s ability to connect deeply with any audience with a level of immediacy and intimacy he has never seen before. with other artists.
“Their music fits perfectly into the traditional African-American gospel genre, but their performances and recordings transcend all boundaries of religion, race, age or region,” he explains. “Their music is above all about human connection. “
“Take a look in the book” is available at legendaryingramettes.com.