LITTLE ROCK — It’s a resurrection, of sorts, for the gospel music of Gladys Mc-Fadden.
More than three decades after the Little Rock singer recorded her last album with the Loving Sisters, one of her old songs has found new life on a Time-Life CD compilation: Shoutin’ Down the Aisles: Today’s Best Traditional Gospel.
Shoutin’, which includes singles by Kirk Franklin, Gladys Knight, Edwin Hawkins and a number of other stars, has spent most of the year on Billboard’s list of top-selling gospel albums.
It entered this week at No. 18.
Twenty-nine of the 30 songs on the two-CD compilation were recorded between 1989 and 2009.
“He’ll Answer Prayer,” by the Loving Sisters and Love Act, datesway back to 1974.
Until now, it has never been available on compact disc.
“This is the first song of Gladys’ in the digital age,” says Bill Carpenter, author of Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia.
Carpenter, who helped Time-Life assemble the collection, says it wasn’t easy to include McFadden in the project. Her label, ABCPeacock, had been sold to MCA, which was then taken over by Universal.
The new generation of record executives had never heard of Mc-Fadden, and the master recordings were lost.
So Carpenter tracked down an old vinyl album, on the Internet, and gave it to an engineer, who spruced up the sound.
Now, a new generation is hear-ing McFadden’s voice.
“She was the best. She was every bit as good as Mahalia Jackson to me,” said Carpenter, recently. “When you listen to the fire in her voice, she had a strong voice; a lot of passion.”
Gladys McFadden, now 75, says she’s glad to be included in the project. “It sounds great. It sounds great.”
McFadden and the Loving Sisters - Jo Dumas, Ann James and the late Lorraine Leeks - were inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2003.
The Sisters had three sons - George Williams, Larry James and the late Leonard Givens, who became the Love Act - providing accompaniment for the group in the 1970s.
Signed by Peacock Records in the early 1960s, the women recorded 10 albums and garnered a Grammy nomination over the years. They performed across the nation. They marched with Martin Luther King Jr.
“We would always sing. We would march on the front lines,” McFadden recalls. “We were young and courageous, fearless and all those things.”
The Loving Sisters sizzled on stage, singing about the Lord like sanctified Supremes.
“I think to my taste, the Loving Sisters were the last great group of the golden age” of gospel music, says Anthony Heilbut, author of The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times.
“They were very attractive and they were real showmen. I saw them at the Apollo Theater where they stole the show. They really knew how to work a house,” said Heilbut, a Grammy-winning record producer.
McFadden wrote much of their music and took charge during concerts. “She was so scrappy. Such a nice little fighter on the floor,” Heilbut recalls. “She would sing, she would preach, she would croon. She’d go up and down the aisles. She’s very graceful.”
The records are hard to come by these days, althoughcopies pop up on eBay from time to time.
McFadden says she’s lost all but one of her 10 albums; a friend borrowed the LPs and then lost them, she explained.
“If I could just get me another recording contract ...,” she says. “I’ve long wanted to go to Europe on tour, but I just haven’t got a contract or a sponsor or promoter or anything.”
McFadden’s only son, Leonard Charles Givens, died in March 2009 at age 58. “He was just my right hand. We were just like inseparable.”
Carpenter says McFadden and the Loving Sisters are some of the pioneers of gospel music who deserve to be remembered and honored.
“They’ve gone through a whole lot in their career but haven’t received the recognition they deserved,” he said. “They laid the foundation for today’s gospel stars.”