King Britt Remixing Sister Gertude Morgan
Twenty-five years after she was buried in a pauper's grave in New Orleans, street singer Sister Gertrude Morgan is getting her own remix album.Twenty-five years after she was buried in a pauper's grave in New Orleans, street singer Sister Gertrude Morgan is getting her own remix album.
On Sept. 6, Ropeadope Records will release "King Britt Presents Sister Gertrude Morgan," a soulful collection that mixes the late vocalist's homespun spirituals with contemporary tracks sculpted by Philadelphia producer-mixer Britt. Britt will debut the album with a live band in a multimedia Aug. 19 set at Helsinki's Flow Festival.
The new album has its roots in Crescent City, Calif., where Morgan did the Lord's work as an itinerant singer and painter for 40 years. Her primitive but compelling folk art attracted the attention of art dealer Larry Borenstein, whose New Orleans gallery space became Allan Jaffe's famed music venue Preservation Hall in 1961.
In 1970 Borenstein recorded Morgan's solo tambourine-accompanied singing and preaching; the session saw a limited LP release on Jaffe's Preservation Hall label. Morgan, whose art became the subject of museum and gallery retrospectives, died in her sleep in 1980. She was 80.
Last year, Jaffe's son Ben reissued the primal yet hypnotic Morgan recordings on the reactivated Preservation Hall label as "Let's Make a Record."
Ben Jaffe says of the album his father and Borenstein made: "They didn't know it would have a life beyond the 500 copies they pressed ... [and] we never thought it would ever have much of a market. We re-released it as a labor of love."
For Britt -- a veteran of Digable Planets and a mixer of such talents as Macy Gray, Femi Kuti and Yoko Ono -- the Morgan project was exactly the work he was seeking.
"I've been wanting to get into something to build awareness that's more political and spiritual," he says. "[And] I'm a big fan of New Orleans funk and New Orleans in general and the mysticism and the voodoo -- it's mysterious, and it's dark."
Working with co-producer Tim Motzer, Britt dropped Morgan's original vocal and tambourine tracks into Pro Tools and converted the singer's often irregular meters into regular time. From there, he built tracks, reminiscent of Talk Talk's expansive "Spirit of Eden," that deepened and broadened the original music with nimbuses of steel guitar, organ, strings, beats and harp (courtesy of guest G. Love).
The live presentation will include visual accompaniment designed by the Asheville, N.C., firm Illuminati. Britt hopes to mount the show at museums and performance spaces, but its expense will initially limit its exposure to club dates.
Britt feels that Sister Gertrude Morgan's music is well suited for these oft-troubled times. "I think we all need some spirituality, something to grasp onto," he says. "We definitely need it right now."