This weekend, the Smithsonian will present a musical tribute to and colloquium on the Rev. Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933). Tindley's compositions influenced Thomas A. Dorsey and Roberta Martin, and formed the base for a new black urban sacred music--gospel. Concerts will take place Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
THE LOOKED almost like a giant, but his 6-foot-3-inch frame was bent over so that he could talk to a diminutive youth who had stopped him.
"Is you really God's servant?" the youth asked.
A slight smile flitted over the man's nut-brown features as he replied, "All of us are servants of God."
"Yes, son, even you." He released the youth's hand, straightened up to his full height and smilingly left the youngster, who gazed with his mouth agape as the Rev. Charles Albert Tindley continued his walk up Philadelphia's South Broad Street.
Tindley was pastor of a black Methodist Episcopal church that had just purchased a sanctuary on Philadelphia's prestigious Broad Street. The year was 1906, and Tindley had been assigned to the 150-member Bainbridge Street Methodist Church just a few years previously. As he stepped into his pulpit for the first time at Bainbridge Street Church, those who came to scoff became instantaneous admirers; the meek, mild-mannered sexton they had known had taken on a ministerial charisma that bordered on the miraculous. When he began to preach, his big, baritone voice projected to every nook and cranny of the sanctuary..
Tindley brought more than his charisma to Bainbridge Street Church, for in 1901 he had copyrighted nine gospel hymns that became the forerunner of more than 60 such creations. They included "I Have Found at Last a Savior," "After a While," "A Better Home," "A Stanger Cut the Rope," "From Youth to Old Age," "What Are they Doing in Heaven Today?" and "I'll Overcome Someday." The topics and titles of these and other gospel hymns composed by Tindley portray his religious philosophy and belief.
When Tindley made his move to Broad Street with his congregation, he had already reached another plateau of musical composition., In 1905, the following creations were copyrighted: "Stand By Me," "The Storm Is Passing Over," "It May Be the Best for Me," "Nothing Between My Soul and My Savior," "Consolation," "Someday," "Today" and "We'll Understand It Better By-and-By."
These gospel creations were not just evidence of his musical artistry but embellished the sermons he delivered. Tindley's ministry was epitomized by continuous street evangelism; his massive body was visible daily as he meandered up and down South Street, at that time the only public passageway where all strata of the black population could be found. He accosted all and sundry, black and white, to repent and accept God's forgiveness of their sins; his preaching was often highlighted by a hymn he had composed.
Tindley's hymns carried messages of hope for thousands of jobless blacks who were caught up in the economic depression of the early 1900s. He not only preached and sang his hymns to despairing folk, but also began to feed them free lunches at his church. He often sang a gospel hymn to the unfortunates who came to eat. During this time of economic distress, Tindley wrote a hymn of hope and titled it "Here Am I, Send Me." If the master wants somebody/Just to fill a humble place/ And to show that to the lowly/God will give sufficient grace/ I am ready now to offer/All I am, whate'er it be/ And to say to him this moment/Here am I, send me.
At the general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1916 and again in 1920, Tindley was an unsuccessful candidate for bishop. Two hymns he composed after these rebuffs contain his disappointment and continued faith. In "Leave It There," these ideas were set forth: If the world from you withhold/of its silver and its gold/ And you have to get along with meager fare/ Remember in His word, how He feeds the little bird/ Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there. When your enemies assail and your heart begins to fail Don't forget that God in heaven answers prayer He will make a way for you and lead you safely through Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.
Later, the hymns composed during the twilight of Tindley's ministry reflected his faith--"Spiritual Springtime," "A Better Day Is Coming By-and-By," "The Home of the Soul," "I'll Be Satisfied," and "He'll Take You Through." These and many other hymns establish, without fear of contradiction, that Tindley was the father of gospel music.