UCLA takes lead in preserving gospel music


Published Apr 1, 2006 12:00 PM

Mahalia Jackson on stage

Gospel great Mahalia Jackson

UCLA is playing an important role in preserving gospel’s rich history. Hundreds of cassette and LP recordings and hours of videotape are archived at UCLA, preserved for posterity and accessible to the public.

The project began in 2004, when the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive joined with the Heritage Music Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, to create Gospel Archiving in Los Angeles (GALA). Under the direction of assistant librarian John Vallier M.A. ’00, M.L.I.S. ’03, the archive carefully documented about 100 cassette tapes and 600 LP albums, among them several late-career recordings from gospel great Mahalia Jackson.

UCLA also dispatched a small team of ethnographers to make video and audio recordings of live performances at one of Los Angeles’ finest gospel venues, Greater New Bethel Baptist Church.

Most of the LPs and cassette tapes came from the personal collection of Margaret Pleasant Douroux, a noted gospel composer and educator and the founder of the Heritage Music Foundation. The eventual goal is for the archived material to become part of a gospel concert hall and education center to be located in Los Angeles, Vallier says.

Rev. Eugene Douglass Smallwood
(Three Sons of Thunder)

The Greater New Bethel recordings are available for viewing through the Online Archive of California. Audio recordings may be heard only at the Ethnomusicology Archive, 1630 Schoenberg Music Building. Eventually, UCLA hopes to make it possible for the public to upload gospel music from their personal collections onto a community server. “It’s going to be a long road,” Vallier says. “But we want this to be a living collection.”