GOSPELflava.com: How did the idea behind Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encylclopedia first come to you? Was there any experience, in particular, that prompted you to start the project?
Bil Carpenter: Well, since I was a kid, I've been collecting newspaper articles and memorabilia on my favorite recording artists. I didn't become interested in gospel until I was almost an adult, so most of my news clips are of secular artists. Anyway, I was cleaning up my closet where I kept all this stuff and I looked at all these old newspapers and things and thought to myself, "This is really a fire hazard. I should throw this stuff away."
But, I hate to throw anything away. So, I thought about what I wanted to do with the stuff for a couple of days and decided to throw it away. I'm really sentimental. Just looking at an old newspaper clip will remind me of what I was doing when I clipped it and take me back to some fond memory. So, I decided to take one last look at the clips before I tossed them and as I looked at them, I saw a sprinkling of gospel clips. Then, I thought to myself, "so many people don't know about these gospel artists' lives, I should do something with this information." In that moment, I decided not to throw my stash away.
During that period, I'd already felt like my work as a publicist wasn't appreciated by clients and that I wasn't being well compensated for it, and I had wanted to do something aside from PR that would be a fun project for myself. So, this turned out to be what I needed.
I decided to put all the gospel stuff together as a book. I figured I'd finish it in 3 weeks. This was back in 2002. Well, as I got into it, 3 weeks turned into 3 years. That's sort of long-winded; but that was the inspiration for the book.
GOSPELflava.com: Of the over 100 interviews you conducted with artists and personalities in researching for the book, what stands out in particular for you?
Bil Carpenter: It's the rich history that is dying with these artists when we don't write it down. I hate that there are no significant interviews on gospel singers such as The Davis Sisters or Edna Gallmon Cooke in existence. As an example, I interviewed the Rev. Willie Morganfield who made some great sermonette recordings in the 1960s and wrote the gospel classic "What is This?" [subsequently covered by Walter Hawkins]."
GOSPELflava.com: Clearly, it's impossible to cover all the Gospel artists out there right now, let alone the vast number that have come and gone over the past number of years. How did you know when to stop?
Bil Carpenter: I don't know when to stop [laughs]. My publisher stopped me by setting up this thing called a deadline. If I did not have that deadline, I'd probably have had about 700 artists in the book. The thing is that every time I interviewed someone, they told me about other artists I'd never heard of before. So, then I'd want to write about that artist too. I had never heard of Betty Ransom Nelson, Rev. Willie Morganfield, Earline Allen or lots of people in the book, so those people were added after someone told me about them. I'm looking forward to the revised edition of the book when I can add whoever is going to dominate the gospel scene over the next few years and also pull in whatever artists didn't make it into this edition of the book, such as Dottie Jones and Martha Munizzi. I was actually surprised that there were this many gospel artists out there. It's totally amazing how neglected the gospel community has been, with respect to media coverage.
GOSPELflava.com: You include a wide variety of artists in Uncloudy Days, including some that people might be surprised about (Ike & Tina Turner, Prince, etc.). How did you define "gospel artist" in putting the book together?
Bil Carpenter: I'm personally part of this new generation of people who is turned off by traditional church and how the church can sometimes alienate rather then embrace people. It seems like so many churches make more enemies than friends, and I think that's unfortunate, because there are a lot of good churches out there that really serve the communities they are in, and these other churches make all churches look bad to outsiders. I say all that to say that I didn't define anyone as a gospel artist per se. What I did was identify people who have recorded gospel music, whether they are Christians or not. I'd still say that 99% of the people in the book are Christians. Ike & Tina Turner recorded a classic gospel album in their trademark style in 1974. I thought the gospel audience should be aware of that, because it's a very good album. I know there are people who say that the book should only include people who only sing gospel music. But, we have this issue in the church community. Some artists who sing gospel music don't live a clean life according to Biblical principles, and some non-gospel artists live a very clean life. So, it seems hypocritical to cast one out simply because they don't call themselves a Christian and yet keep another solely because they wear the label of a Christian even though they don't live the lifestyle of a Christian.
GOSPELflava.com: Was there any one discovery or piece of information that you found in your research that stands above all else?
Bil Carpenter: I think there were many discoveries such as that. For instance, I was shocked that a gospel label executive would threaten the life of a singer like the experience Douglas Miller had with his former record label. I was surprised that Willa Dorsey was one of the first gospel artists to integrate white churches. I was surprised that Shirley Caesar wrote most of "Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name" and didn't get credit for it all of those items surprised me.
GOSPELflava.com: What were the obstacles to writing the book? What were the challenges?
Bil Carpenter: I guess the biggest obstacle was getting interviews with artists who have not been written about in great detail. Another issue was that some artists did not want to verify their birthdates. I didn't think being young mattered on the gospel side of show business, but I see that I was wrong! Those were my biggest challenges.
GOSPELflava.com: Who would you have really liked to interview, but couldn't?
Bil Carpenter: There were several living people that I sought to interview for the book, but they were not cooperative, or, perhaps, they were suspicious of me because they didn't know me and didn't understand what a gospel encyclopedia would be. I wanted to interview those people in order to get their stories straight, but when they ignored me or turned me down, I wasn't upset. No one has to give me an interview and people's memories are their own unless they want to share them. So, I respect that. However, to really answer your question, the people I would have most loved to interview are dead. I would have loved to talk to Ruth Davis and the rest of the Davis Sisters. I would have loved to ask Rosetta Tharpe about the rejection she experienced after she left gospel to do pop music and then returned to the church to find that her audience no longer adored her. I would loved to talk to Edna Gallmon Cooke about how she stumbled on to the idea of talking her way through songs.
GOSPELflava.com: What are your expectations for the book?
Bil Carpenter: My hope is that the book will become a reference book that people consult whenever they want to learn quick facts about their favorite gospel artists in the same manner that people read the various RollingStone music guides to learn about their favorite pop artists. I did all the research and fact finding on this book so that other people would not have to, so if people can get something out of it, I feel good. I like to make people happy. Based on some comments I've already heard, I haven't made everyone happy; but I have made several people happy by creating this book. So, that part of it makes this all worthwhile, and if this book inspires others to write more books about gospel music, then, that's awesome too.
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