Gospel spirit shines
Rain can’t dampen faithful’s fervor

Chicago Tribune
By Aaron Cohen
June 4, 2007

Singer Otis Clay also brought up social issues, specifically the painful aftermath of Katrina, during his opening set under clear skies Saturday.

Chicago blues/R&B veteran Clay’s work has straddled the religious and secular realms for years, including stints in the Gospel Songbirds in the 1960s and a recent incarnation of the Soul Stirrers. That group’s most famous alumnus is the late Sam Cooke, and Clay echoed some of his predecessor’s techniques. Clay’s smoothly authoritative way of stretching syllables on “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” was vintage Soul Stirrers, but Clay’s warm growl was a more personal stamp.

While Clay’s gospel songs are about faith — as opposed to, say, romance — his festival band featured the horn section and chord progressions of classic R&B rather than hymnals. But, as Clay said, nowadays churches don’t scorn songs that cross lines so much.

“Fifteen years ago, you wouldn’t dare sing [Cooke’s] ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ or the Staple Singers’ ‘I’ll Take You There’ in church,” Clay said. “But after a while, people understood that they’re inspirational songs that can also go in a secular format, and they bring all these people together.”

Return To Main Reviews page