The late-Sister Gertrude Morgan, a New Orleans-based self-taught artist, musician, poet and preacher who passed away in 1980, may finally get the recognition she so deserves.
Today the Ace Hotel, in conjunction with Vinyl Me, Please, the Preservation Hall Foundation, DJ and producer King Britt and Ropeadope Records, announced its first-ever album release: a double LP featuring Morgan's 1969 recording Let's Make An Album along with 2004's re-imagination of that album King Britt Presents Sister Gertrude Morgan which comes out this April 28.
Let's Make An Album features fourteen spirited gospel tracks led by Sister Gertrude's haunting vocals backed solely by tambourine recorded by the Preservation Hall Foundation. Ben Jaffe, the creative director and bassist for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, has known Sister Gertrude all his life as his parents founded the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
"I was blessed to have grown up with Sister Gertrude," Jaffe said in a statement. "She was warm and nurturing... giving and caring... she was our Mother Teresa... that rare person who has a calling and commits their life to serving their community. Sister Gertrude overcame hardship. At times she was destitute. She found strength in the teachings of Jesus. She brought joy to others through her depictions of events in the Bible."
In 2004, the Philadelphia-based Ropeadope Records (whose diverse roster includes Eddie Palmieri, Nicholas Payton, the Sharp Things and Slavic Soul Party among many others) and Philly-based DJ and producer King Britt put a live band behind Sister Gertrude's recordings. The group included Britt on turntables and samplers, co-writer and co-producer Tim Motzer on guitar, Chuck Treece on drums, Mark Boyce on keyboards and Barry Meehan on bass which becam King Britt Presents Sister Gertrude Morgan.
On May 4, during this year's Jazz Fest, King Britt and his band will come together at the Ace Hotel’s venue Three Keys to perform their reinterpretation of Sister Gertrude Morgan’s Let's Make a Record as part of its the Hotel's Six of Saturns live music initiative.
The Sister Gertrude Mogan double album also marks the launch of Ace Hotel x Vinyl Me, Please Exclusives, which will put out a series of collector edition vinyl focusing on reissues and live recordings from New Orleans artists both archival and contemporary. Vinyl Me, Please currently curates the vinyl placed in the Ace Hotel New York's rooms.
The double Sister Morgan LP is only available as a limited edition of 1,500, each with a foil-stamp and numbered and released on 180 gram black vinyl. It will only be available for purchase at the Ace Hotel New Orleans for the duration of Jazz Fest (April 28-May 7). Afterward it will be available online on Preservation Hall Foundation and Ropeadope’s websites.
All of which begs the question, why would a hotel release vinyl by a relatively obscure outsider artist with limited commercial potential?
"We always follow where our curiosity takes us," said Kelly Sawdon, Ace Hotel/Atelier Ace's partner and chief brand officer, when Billboard put that question to her. "Collaborating with friends who we think are doing inspiring things and sharing work by artists we admire, like The Sister Gertrude Morgan project, is really just an extension of that."
Sawdon added that working with Vinyl Me, Please, a record club & online vinyl store founded in 2013, and Preservation Hall was an opportunity to bring together "two pillars of community-minded music organizations." "This felt like a way for us to support the same music community that gave rise to Sister Gertrude Morgan in the first place," the hotel's CMO said. "We feel lucky to be here and we want to be able to help support the community who's been so welcoming to us."
All proceeds from the record sales will go to the Preservation Hall Foundation whose mission is to perpetuate and preserve the music of New Orleans.
In the past, Ace's non-traditional and diverse programming has included David Lynch's Festival of Disruption in Los Angeles; a Moog installation and artist residency at their London property; their Five at Five live acoustic concert series in both the L.A. and New York locations sponsored by Martin Guitar (which also provides in-room instruments at every Ace location).
In addition to Sister Gertrude, Ace Hotel New Orleans is hosting what it calls Six of Saturns which will run April 27–May 7 during the 47th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and marks the second year the hotel has featured live programming.
The U.K.'s Gilles Peterson will co-curate the programming and broadcast live from the hotel's Three Keys venue on Worldwide.fm. It's shockingly the British DJs first time to New Orleans and he will be broadcasting live from the Ace every morning from 10:00 a.m. to noon. The line-up will include musicians from the like-minded music festival Ponderosa Stomp and, of course, a Hawaiian-based blog-turned-record label Aloha Got Soul’s debut in the Big Easy.
Other Six of Saturn events include the premiere of Jazz Fest Legends: From Fess to Fats; the first Worldwide FM open jam session live from New Orleans; the one year anniversary edition of the monthly open jam SOUNDBYTES with Grammy-winning artist PJ Morton; and the un-missable Mardi Gras Indian's 79ers Gang.