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Rev. J.C. Burnett

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  • Years Active: 1920s, 1930s, 1940s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

Beginning in the late '20s, Reverend J.C. Burnett began recording religous sermons, including a popular series released by Columbia. One of the most exciting recordings of gospel music from a strictly secular standpoint was the combination of Burnett, producer Joe Davis, and a group of session musicians Davis chose for the occasion fronted by keyboard player Porter Grainger. Grainger's heavy duty gospel organ bears a fair resemblance to a chicken-fried pork chop with a side of candied yams, but the amount of rehearsal preparation involved in this session would have made a Southerner drop off his porch. A letter from Grainger to Davis, as reported in the latter man's biography Never Sell a Copyright, indicates that the seasoned keyboardist was worried about this session: "Anticipating the probability that something might go wrong, I rehearsed my group so thoroughly that they didn't necessarily need their scores." These tracks originally came out on the Jay Dee label.

The Document label has come up with two seperate volumes from the good Reverend's career, the first focusing completely on the late-'20s recordings. Burnett's recordings are considered influential, but not just on gospel music fans or sinners wanting to be saved: his recordings were favorites of Bob Dylan's long before the star briefly embraced Christianity. One collection of so-called "Dylan cover songs", or songs by other people that Dylan has recorded, includes a Burnett track, or at least one that is credited to him. It is "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," more associated with Appalachia than black gospel, not a typical example of the Reverend but breathtaking when sung by him nonetheless.