When I was a kid, my parents had the most amazing record collection. Part of my only-child joy came from spending time downstairs in the music room at the piano next to the 8 track player and stereo system rifling through this collection. It's still set up like that. Although, now it features a dusty treadmill my dad bought at some point in the '90s.
One of the first set of albums I fell in love with was shortly after my parents had "the talk" with me. This was not "the talk" most of you are thinking of. This was a talk about this place they were going to called "church". Years later, as an adult, I would work through, with my therapist, my feelings about not growing up exclusively in the black church. I didn't completely grow up there, like most of my black gay counterparts, who I befriended when I got to New York City in my 20s. The fact that my parents gave me the choice to go to this place as long as I educated myself about where it was, what it was, and it's place in our history, partially made me who I am today. I had a different relationship to gospel music than most of the black gay men I know.
I first encountered Nikki Giovanni's poems on the album "Like a Ripple on a Pond" before I read any of the poems featured on it. In the 1970s, Nikki teamed up with the New York Community Choir and read her poems about black love, falling in and out of it, being in New York City, raising her son on her own, and her love of Aretha Franklin in the middle of historic black church gospel anthems like "How I Got Over". This particular song features Nikki reading her poem "Conversation" which is about just that. A conversation she had with an older black woman she was interviewing.
For me, it was about the juxtaposition of this great, sacred music and it's text standing side by side with this poem about what a good man could do for you, and how to get through life. An older woman telling her story of how she got over.
If you can find these albums (there are 3 or 4), just purchase them. They are well worth the price and such a find. They taught me about gospel music. They taught me about poetry. They taught me about loving someone and respecting everyone's history. I still listen to them and let them shape my day. Also, listen to the organ player. And somewhere, there is one warbling soprano who has worn me out since I was 5 years old.