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g Gospel and Christian Music Site

BellaOnline's Gospel and Christian Music Editor

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My Talk with the Author of


As the Gospel Music Editor here at Bellaonline to say that I receive many things would be an understatement. Some things I can use here at the site and some I can not, but I must say that I have never received an item that I feel will benefit me more than the book "Uncloudy Days" The Gospel Music Encyclopedia. At first I, probably like many of you thought "Oh how nice an encyclopedia to sit on the shelf until I need to reference something." Yes this book can be used that way but what I found out, once I started turning the pages and really reading it, was that it is more than just a reference guide for people who want to learn about Gospel music. This book is really a series of miniature biographies on every artist that has ever contributed to the gospel music scene.

Chocked full of interesting facts as well as personal comments from some of the artists themselves, "Uncloudy Days" gives you a full and in-depth history on all who have impacted gospel music. If you want to know something about gospel music this book has it. From A-7, the Atlanta based gospel group, to Darlene Zscheck, an Australian praise and worship vocalist there is a great story told about all of them. There is also recommended recording listings, gospel trivia, a list for top selling gospel singles, albums/CD and videos and listings of various awards that gospel artist have received over the years.

Finally the book also has a wonderful 14 song CD also titled "Uncloudy Days" that accompanies it. Inspired by the book the CD features an awesome collection of gospel music from artists such as Mavis Staples, Ann McCrary and former Malaco Records child star Bryan Wilson who by the way gives a rousing rendition of the title track.

Bil Carpenter has produced a must have book for anyone who loves gospel music. He manages to list all of these facts and stories and makes them an interesting and great read. Not an easy task for a writer but Bil is not your ordinary writer. Bil has written for the Washington Post, People, Goldmine, Upscale and a host of other outlets. He has also handled publicity for artists such as the Clark Sisters, Vickie Winans, CeCe Winans, T.D.Jakes, the Staple Singers and Kirk Franklin. When I think about it...who else could have written this book...nobody but Bil.

You would think that a person with all of these connections would not have time for us little people, (Smile) but when I wanted an interview with him all I had to do was e-mail him and my request was granted. There wasn't the formality of "Well have your people call my people...etc" no he e-mailed me the same day and called me (albeit late) for the interview. I found him to be warm, very open, candid, hilarious and really much like his book, a great read.

Gospel@Bellaonline
What made you want to do this encyclopedia? What was the catalyst that made you say 'This needs to be done' and thank you by the way because I feel this is long overdue and it's going to help me (in my line of work) tremendously."

Bil Carpenter
You're welcome. The catalyst was two things and one was selfish. One day I was feeling totally unappreciated,(laughs) not by any specific artist, but just as a publicist. (I was) feeling totally unappreciated, underpaid, underfed everything.

G@B
I know how you feel about being underpaid because people think I make so much money working here at Bella but I have no salary. I write here for free all the editors write on their topics for free. My other ventures, I write for E-music.com and Bow Down Gospel magazine, I can receive funds from them. Also if there are ads on my Bella site I make money that way but anything that you see on Bella the editors don't get paid for that (article). We write because we love our topics. It's that simple.

BC
Ok and so my thing was ok here I have dedicated all of my 20's you know the prime years...

G@B
(Mocking tone) Oh Bil you are so old...(laughter)

BC
(laughs) No..No serious this is just how I was feeling. Promoting and creating a career for artists and I see them rise from rags to riches. I'm not one of their songwriters or producers but the press that I bring them helps them become more famous. So the more famous the more radio play, the more radio play the more sales and you know it's a domino effect and I saw everybody being compensated in the equation except the publicist. Not just me but even my publicist friends. It's like at a record label who is the first person to get fired, the publicist. When there are budget cuts you fire the publicist, but it is really the publicist that helps create the long term image for the artist. So anyway I was just going through, not a depression but a little pity moment and I said I need to do something for me. I've given of myself totally (and) loyally. Artists have fired me then hired me back and fired me again because I'm very candid. When artists ask me something I'll tell them. I tell them I don't think this record is good. Then they will go and get another publicist who tells them it can go all the way. That person charges them twice the money, gives them half the results, and then they will come back to me when the budget is gone.

(Laughter)

BC
So anyway that's a long way to say all of that but I thought what can I do, what are my skills, God I have no skills. What can I do other than PR, so that I can have an IRA account or something?

G@B
A little retirement (money) hun?!

(laughter)

BC
Exactly! (laughs) You know freelancing and all this stuff when you are young you don't think about what is going to happen when I'm 65?

G@B
Exactly...hello!

(laughter)

BC
You know, but eventually if you are lucky you are going to get there. So I said I need to start thinking about these things.

G@B
Tired of that writer's salary!

BC
Exactly! I use to write for People Magazine and all that but it was as a freelancer. I love the freedom of not having to work in an office. I could do it because I did it as a college student, working menial jobs and I was a team player but there is something about the freedom of (freelancing)it. I was living at home with my parents, traveling all over the world, and writing for these magazines, but it doesn't pay the same and you don't get the benefits that a staff writer would get.

G@B
Yeah that's true.

BC
But anyway one day while I was already in this mood I was cleaning out my closet and I ran into these newspapers I had been collecting since I was eight or nine years old. I was one of those egg-head kids who was very political. I wasn't an egg head as far as nerdy, I was sort of radical, (and) I wanted to be the president.

(laughter)

G@B
You can still run! Go ahead! You can't do any worse than the one we have!

(laughter)

BC
Well I know enough now to know I don't want that job! (laughter) However the household that I was raised in my parents never talked to me like I was a child. They always talked to me like I was an adult so I was like five years old having political debates with my father.

G@B
Wow!

BC
So that's the kind of kid I was so I was always saving this type of stuff. So you can imagine almost 20 years of this stuff in my closet. One day I was cleaning and I thought to myself this is a fire hazard. (laughter) So anyway I started going through it and as I started going through it, I didn't start going to church until I was like 15.

G@B
You're kidding?

BC
No!

G@B
Your parents didn't drag you to church? You always hear about people being dragged to church by their parents.

BC
My parents didn't go to church. They were very moral but without religion. We didn't go to church but I had a great grandmother who would go to mass. They hated for me to go to Mass with her because they were just down on the Catholic church. I never asked them why but when I would visit her she would drag me to Mass and I would go to sleep and then she would hit me. (laughter) Anyway my mother got saved around the time I was 16 and then some preacher had this bright idea that the parents lead the kids. (laughter) So if the parents are in church they need to make the kids go to church whether they want to go to church or not. So she started making me go to church and then she made my dad go to church. So anyway I wasn't familiar with gospel music until that time.

G@B
So you were 16? Wow! Well you've made up for it!

BC
Oh yeah I've made up for it. So I was taking piano lessons...oh wait a minute I'm getting ahead of myself, (laughter) ok you asked me how did I come up with the idea. (by this time we are both dying with laughter) This is how I came up with the idea. When I was 16 and started going to church the only thing that interest me was the music. So I started trying to find out about the music. So I started saving clippings, and magazines that dealt with the music and this was all mixed up in that stuff I was going through. So I thought maybe I could do something with this stuff because these gospel artists are so rarely given any attention in the media. I thought maybe I could put this in a book some kind of way. So I just sat there pulling out all this stuff these little pieces on Vanessa Bell Armstrong and Commission and it all came to me that very night. I thought, I'll do a book with a hundred gospel artist profiling their careers. I'll call it the Encyclopedia of Gospel Music and this was around 2001 or two. That very night I started typing on the computer profiles because I knew a lot of stuff. By that time I had work with a lot of the artist and as I started digging into it I realized that there was far more than 100 artists(to cover).

G@B
Yes you have far more in the book than that.

BC
Yes because as I would interview somebody they would mention somebody who they felt had a great influence on them and I would say well who are they? They would say 'Oh are you kidding me? That was like the biggest person in 1952' so then I would find out about that person and then that person would tell me of someone else and that's how it grew to 600. It could have easily grown to more than that.

G@B
I would think so. You mention in your overview that this is a good time to be in gospel music. You stated that there wasn't much money for (gospel)artists in the beginning but now that has changed. Why do you think that's the case? What's made it so popular here lately?

BC
There use to be a mentality that to be religious or a person of faith you had to take a vow of poverty. The ministers lived very low key and gospel singers, because they were singing for Jesus, worked regular jobs and (would) just sing on the weekends. They weren't sophisticated to know to get a manager or this or that and ask for more money. It seems as though the prosperity preaching ministry which started with Rev. Ike took hold and just mushroomed. I really can't pinpoint one thing that made this change. When I was a kid I rarely heard of mega churches but since the 80's mega churches has just mushroomed all over the country. Now along with that there has come a new sense or standard of professionalism in terms of presenting gospel music. Now you hear of musicians making six figure salaries and it common.

G@B
First I wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed reading the overview of your book.

BC
Better than the book wasn't it? (laughs)

G@B
No the book is good. (laughs) It's not really an encyclopedia it's more of a series of mini bios on the different gospel artist so to me it's more than an encyclopedia. When you say encyclopedia for some people that sounds like a very boring read and your book isn't.

BC
Oh thank you.

G@B
You're welcome. What fascinated me was (learning about) the circumstances of the song "Uncloudy Days" and the fact that you chose that song for the title of the book. What made you tie the book into that particular song?

BC
Well I'm always looking for the deeper meaning of things. You know I grew up liking Bob Dylan's music and the music of people who was very substantial. They weren't just making flighty songs. So I wanted to name the book after a song that people would know but I felt "Amazing Grace" would be a little to..

G@B
Ostentatious?

BC
No, I thought it would be too predictable because it's probably the most famous gospel song. I wanted something a little less, notorious, if I can use that word. Something that would sum up the ups and downs that gospel artists go through. I saw that song (Uncloudy Days) as being such an ironic song because every version of it that I had ever heard is singing about a glorious, heavenly place, where there is no more trial and no more struggle but everybody sings it like a funeral march (song).

G@B
I have to be honest I never heard it (sung) until I read your book.

BC
Really?

G@B
Yeah

BC
Hundreds of artist have recorded it. Willie Nelson, the Williams Brothers, the Staple Singers, Elvis Presley but everybody sings it slow and sad.

G@B
It should be upbeat because the words are so uplifting.

BC
But it's never sung upbeat and I felt that that really exemplified what I considered the irony. The people who are the most oppressed people of the world, Christians, would look towards this place and maintain their faith in spite of all they go through. Particular black Christians I should say, based on the civil rights movement, Jim Crow and all of that stuff that they have gone through and they maintained their faith. That was the ironic part and that's really why I chose that song because it has that philosophical bent on it. I have never been asked that question. I guess I should come up with some spiffy answer. (laughter) I'm not use to being interviewed. I'm use to being the interviewer.

(laughter)

G@B
Well you did good Bill. (laughs) Now since you are the interviewee you have to realize that that is going to be one of the main questions that someone is going to ask you.

BC
Yeah but I've done like 25 interviews so far and no one else has asked me that.

G@B
Well see I'm unique!

(laughter)

BC
Well there you go!

G@B
You have so many great inspiring interviews in the book, what was the most fascinating one? I know that's kind of putting you on the spot.

BC
Yeah because that like saying which one of my children do I like best. The one that gives me the less trouble.

(laughter)

G@B
Ok then tell me which one you had the least problem getting. You know how interviews are sometimes it can take you forever to nab one.

BC
Actually none of them was easy. That was another thing to me. I'm like these artists are always complaining about not getting attention and I'm calling them for information. They was just giving me so much trouble. Nobody was easy to find I had to depend on friends to track down people.

G@B
You are kidding me? As long as you have been in the business?

BC
Well the people I knew were easy but thatís because I knew them. You know like CeCe, and Angie and Debbie, Candi Staton, Mavis that wasn't hard because I can call them up at home. But people I don't know like Dorothy Norwood, the Williams Brothers etc. were either on tour or just busy or forgot. I wrote a piece on Sara Jordan Powell before I interviewed her because I could not find her. I had been hearing about her, actually I think I head about her before I ever went to church, I'm not sure why but the name stuck out for me. So I really wanted to put her in the book and I could only find enough information to put a short paragraph about her in there. Then a friend of mine said I know her and they gave me a number and I called that number and that person gave me Sara's number and I called her. She was shy and she was like 'I don't think you really want to interview me. I really haven't done much'

G@B
So she was kind of humble?

BC
She's extremely humble. I said let me ask you some questions anyway and she said if you want to. If that's really what you want to do. (laughs) I started asking her questions we were on that phone for 2 and a half hours!

G@B
Wow! Now you no longer have just a paragraph in the book you have a picture too.

BC
Yeah and see that's what I like. Prior to this book, I know people will take information from my book and put it on line, but you know that the nature of this era we are in, but it's good in terms of her legacy. Because before this book you were hard pressed to find any information on her. They were basically saying the same thing...nothing...now a nice bit of information on her is in the book for the first time. She was very happy when she saw the book and she called and told me she was very honored to be in the book. That piece meant a lot to me. Then there were other artist who chose not to be in the book.

G@B
Really?

BC
They didn't know who I was, they didn't know what a gospel encyclopedia would be, they were suspicious, I was asking questions and they thought I was with the FBI. That is what one lady said!

(I am cracking up at this time..just dying)

G@B
Who tell me who Bil?

BC
Velma Morgan.

G@B
You are kidding me?

BC
She's the mother of the Truthettes.

G@B
Oh I know them out of Oklahoma!


BC
Yeah and she is the founder of the group and she was suspicious all the way! Now I would tell her what I was doing and ten minutes later she would say (in his high pitched female voice) 'Now what you doing this for again' and I would say this is for a book 'Why you want us in there?' and I would say because you have created gospel history. She was like un-hun yeah right!

(laughter..tears are beginning to form in my eyes from the laughter..Bil should be a comedian we are cracking up!)

G@B
You know how we can be! There is always a conspiracy theory in the back of our minds.

BC
Right and so at one point I was becoming a little frustrated because I wasn't getting the answers I wanted. It wasn't that I wanted the answers to go a certain way but everything was tempered with her hesitance so I just said ok it's cool I've got enough information. Then she was like 'Oh you don't want to talk to me!' so I can't win!

(laughter)

G@B
Either way you are getting talked about! You are either with the FBI, asking too many questions, you are not asking enough questions...

(laughter)

BC
Yeah. I asked for photos, interviews and nobody would call me back or they would say how much does this pay.

G@B
Let me ask you this. Now since the book is out are you getting calls for the next one?

BC
Yeah! There is actually a couple of people who have said 'I have read the entire book.' I'm like you need a life! (laughs)

G@B
No Bill I can see that because it's a great book! Reading the book is like talking to you and you are candid in the book just like you are in person.

BC
Well I said that because the book had only been out for two days.

G@B
Oh I don't know if I could read it in two days! (laughing)
Listen you talk about gay artists in this book. First of all I haven't read any parts where there is openly gay artist so who are they?

BC
One is named Delores Berry, another is a couple named Jason and Demarco and there are some others. Delores has the biggest piece and she had some very interesting things to say. She was very loquacious because she explained her position and how she arrived at her thoughts on how it's cool to be gay and a gospel singer. You are the first person to ask me about the gay artist. (laughs) There is only a handful but you know my whole purpose was I didn't want to be the judge of anything. So many people are narrow minded, not in terms of gay or straight people but about gospel music in general. Many people see gospel music as only Dottie Peoples, Shirley Caesar and Hezekiah Walker and that's all gospel is (to them). I wanted to show that there is a spectrum of things out here including rap, Grits, gay artist, southern gospel (artist), secular artists that sing gospel, what falls under that term gospel is a lot wider than we give it credit for because we want to box it in.

G@B
Now about Delores Berry she has the title of Reverend so she is actually a minister right?

BC
Exactly and it's in a gay church denomination and she tours that circuit and she desires to cross over from the gay Christian world to the straight Christian world. Hers was the far more interesting of the gay artists. I don't remember if I mentioned this in Daryl Coley's piece but he mentioned that he use to be gay or bi-sexual at one time. Of course I've gotten the most flack about Rev. James Cleveland and I quoted the LA Times and Jet Magazine which talked about his estate being sued by men who claimed to be his lovers. So when I was in LA a few weeks ago I was approached by some former members of his church who were angry that I put that in the book.

G@B
It's the truth?

BC
That was my point. I said 'Was it a lie' and they said that's not the point. Then they just started nick-picking.

G@B
Bil Bil you are frank!

BC
Yeah I know. I'm trying to mellow as I approach middle age.

G@B
Yeah as a writer it can be hard because you have that desire to tell the truth but then it can cause problems. What do you want people to take from this book? When they purchase it and read it what are you wanting them to come away with?

BC
I want them to come away knowing that gospel music is bigger than just ten artists. That there is a rich legacy of not just your ten favorite artists or the ten artist that are currently hot. I go to great length in the book to let people know that although Kirk Franklin deserves every accolade that he has gotten that he is not the first gospel artist to cross over. (to R&B) He is not the first artist to get a gold record as has been printed. Mary Mary was not the first gospel artists signed to Columbia Records, which their (Columbia's)own PR machine use to say, forgetting the fact Mahalia Jackson was the Queen of Columbia. Just prior to Mary Mary coming to Columbia Tramaine Hawkins was there. I mean there are so many un-truths out there. I wanted to clear up some of the un-truths that have floated around out there for years. I also wanted the legacies to be there and the stories to be there, like the story on Rev. Willie Morganfield. You won't find that story anywhere else because he never told anybody that story but me. The story on Douglas Miller has never been told. He has never told anybody that stuff before.

G@B
Ok now wait, I'm not in the M's yet Bil!

(laughter)

BC
I didn't tell you what he said so that can wet your appetite. I mean it's a screen play. I mean Morganfield isn't a screenplay it's just a tragedy, but Douglas is a screenplay.

G@B
It's a movie waiting to be made?

BC
Yeah and it's a short profile but in those few paragraphs is a lot of information.

G@B
Well we need to make the movie Bil! When are we gonna shoot this thing? I'm just waiting on you to write the screen play and I will get the actors and things. (laughter) You know we can make it happen down here in the ATL now!

BC
I know that! Ya'll got it all happening. That's where the movies are being made. Well we are gonna see what we can do.

Until the movie comes out read the story and the history of some of gospel music finest in Uncloudy Days. For information on how to purchase Uncloudy Days log onto www.backbeatbooks.com and check out Bil at www.capitalentertainment.com

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Content copyright © 2013 by Candace Walker. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Candace Walker. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Candace Walker for details.

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