I don’t know if I’ve ever told ya’ll, but I was raised VERY religious. I was born into a very devout Southern Baptist family. In fact, shortly after I was born, my father started attending the Fruitland Bible Institute in Hendersonville, North Carolina to become a minister. Four years later, he had his own church in King’s Mountain, North Carolina and my brother and I were making quite a reputation for ourselves as PK’s (preacher’s kids). We hated Sunday school and instead would hang out in the men’s bathroom in the basement and chew tobacco and tell dirty jokes to the other hicks (no, I don’t still chew tobacco
Let me just stop here and say Southern Baptists:
*Do not handle snakes
*Speak in tongues
*Run up and down the aisles when they get “filled” with the spirit
Through all this was gospel music, always Southern gospel music. My church had what we called “singings” at least once a month, usually on a Saturday night or Sunday night (in place of the regular service). An out-of-town gospel group would come to our church, usually in a huge tour-type bus and do a two hour set for our congregation. The guys would all have on matching leisure suits and big, coiffured (aqua-netted) hair and let’s not forget the ladies, they’d usually have on long flowing aqua/paisley print dresses and would be sporting the largest (aqua-netted) beehives you ever saw. People back then really did take that old saying to heart: the higher the hair, the closer to God.
These groups usually had named like The Imperials, The Georgia Boys, The Dixie Harmonettes and the Southernaires (see a theme here?). After much hand clapping and a long emotional altar-call, we’d end the evening with a covered-dish supper in the fellowship hall. We tried having the covered-dish supper before the singing, but everybody complained about all the “gas passing” during the service (FYI: deviled eggs and collards IS a bad thing to eat right before church).
Let’s fast forward to my late teen years now. As soon as I got my driving license (after three attempts, I still can’t drive worth a shit, btw…), I left my father’s church in favor or the new “hip” Baptist church down the road that had a large youth group. My father was disappointed, but he said he understood that I needed to be in a church with more people my own age, he was just glad that I still went to church in the first place (my brother was a big drugged-out mess by this time). I became very active in that church. I joined the choir and taught Sunday school. I have to say that I was very happy there with my group of friends until they approached me one Sunday to take part in a foot-washing ceremony. Oh hell no, there was no way in hell was I going to sit in front of the church and let somebody wash my feet, I mean, for real. After that, some people acted like they thought I was sorta “silly” to be embarrassed about sitting in front of the church and having my feet washed by somebody else to teach them Jesus-like humility.
Now, I’m not one to brag (yeah, right) but after a while people in the choir began to notice me for my singing ability and soon the choir director approached me about singing “specials” at church events. I was scared but I said okay if she’d practice with me. So, over the next two weeks, I’d go over to her house and we’d practice my songs until I couldn't sing anymore.
Okay, I need to stop and point out something here. By this time in my life, I’d been listening to old Mahalia Jackson albums for years. I played them over and over until I could do a fairly good impression of her (well, for a skinny, white boy, that is…). So, given the choice to sing what I wanted to in front of the church, I decided to sing:
The Upper Room (Mahalia Jackson song)
Go (Shirley Caesar song)
So, just imagine you’re sitting in a Baptist church filled with white people and this skinny, trembling white boy gets ups and starts singing like he thinks he’s a reincarnated version of Mahalia Jackson. I think it blew those people’s minds to be honest. I mean, they were polite & all, clapping when I was done (and I even got a few Amens too) but I was never invited to sing in front of that church again. There’s a video of my performance floating around out there, I wish I could see it… well, no… maybe not.
Ya’ll be good, okay, Jesus is looking, ya know.