Born in Arkansas in 1907, but raised in Chicago, Martin was a protegé of the legendary Thomas Dorsey, and a gifted pianist. In the 1930's, together with Theodore Frye, she formed a male quartet, The Martin-Frye Singers.
With the departure of Frye, the group transitioned to The Roberta Martin Singers, and with the addition of female voices, became one of, if not the first, Gospel ensemble to include both sexes. Group members included Eugene Smith, Norsalus McKissick, Willie Webb, Sammy Lewis, Romance Watson and Robert Anderson, all of whom went on to make a mark in the Gospel world themselves.
Female members included Delois Barrett Campbell, Lucy Smith Collier and Bessie Folk, names familiar to Gospel afficianadoes everywhere.
In their heyday, The Roberta Martin Singers were at the top of Gospel world, generating thousands of fans through their extensive touring and sincere spirits, not to mention their unforgettable music. Somehow combining rough-hewn, all-out singing with a strongly cohesive group dynamic, they go down in the annals as one of the best, influencing myriads of artists who followed, including James Cleveland and Richard Smallwood.
The Roberta Martin Singers were signed to the Nashboro, Fidelity, Apollo, Specialty, Vee Jay and Savoy labels among others. Sadly, much of this excellent material is now exceedingly difficult to find with the exception of Malaco's excellent Best Of collection.
Combining together 18 of the group's best songs from their time on Savoy, this collection makes for a must-have set.
Highlights on the disc include "There Is No Failure In God", a rousing, live cover of a Jessy Dixon song, with lead sung by Norsalus McKissick. Gloria Griffen and Lucy Smith up front harmonizing on "Be Still My Soul" sends tingles up the spine and the group's sensational rendering of the melodic hymn drives hard into the soul.
Among several hits are "No Other Help I Know", with lead by both Martin and Griffin (who frequently wrote material for the group), and "Standing On The Promises" with Eugene Smith out front.
"Hold The Light", with its rollicking, rolling piano and rhythm support, is one of those songs you just never want to hear end. The 8-minute live version of "I'm So Grateful", which begins with a brief sermonette, showcases the captivating live appeal of the group.
Also included is "No Other Help I Know", which later became a hit for Martin's friend, Mahalia Jackson.
The Roberta Martin Singers recorded over 100 recorded songs and were a force in Gospel music for over three decades. They simply must not forgotten. Listening to this collection, and you will find it impossible to do that.
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— reviewed by Stan North —
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