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How does Fowler pull them in? He says he follows a formula well known to more secular showmen: make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em laugh again. "That way," he says, "you entertain 'em as well as make 'em feel a spiritual blessing."
In Birmingham recently, I attended a typical Fowler sing. By 8:00 p. m., when Fowler rushed on stage, the house (capacity: 5,100) was packed, with all standing room filled and 400 of the audience overflowing into chairs on the stage.
"Isn't it just wonderful to be here together?" Fowler cried. There was a surflike roar of agreement. Several voices shouted, "Amen, brother!" Then, with the timing of a ringmaster, Fowler began to introduce the gospel stars. There were quartets like The Statesmen of Atlanta, The Blackwood Brothers of Memphis, and his own Oak Ridge Quartet of Nashville; larger singing groups like the Chuck Wagon Gang of Fort Worth; a series of child prodigies; finally, Jimmy Davis, the musical ex-governor of Louisiana.
As the program progressed, it became obvious that no audience had ever been given more of exactly what it wanted. On sad songs like In My Father's House Are Many Mansions, or Dig a Little Deeper in God's Love, handker-kerchiefs were unfurled in solid white banks. When a quartet kicked up its heels on This Ole House, so did the audience.
"When you got singing inside of you," said a leather-tanned farmer near me, "you got to let it outóloud! And how these boys can let it out!"
The louder the singers shouted, the louder the listeners clapped, stomped, whistled and whooped. Hymns grew more spirited, swung into waltz time, then jumped into a boogie beat. At 1:45 a. m. pandemonium broke loose as The Statesmen launched into the Dixieland favorite, When the Saints Go Marching In, and began marching up and down the aisles. The house shook as men and women of all walks and ages pounded their feet in rhythm. Children who had been asleep for hours woke up and stared dazedly.
Around 2:00 a. m. I asked a blinking gentleman of ninety-two, "How long do you generally stay up at these sings?" "Son," he replied, "when they've sung that last song, that's
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III