“He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes 1926-28″ | Tompkins Square
The prestigious Tompkins Square Records have embarked on a new direction for the label: the release of their very first book + CD. As the label presents new artists of many fields along with archival recordings, their stature builds by the year while their content fills the hearts of thousands as they give the world a voyage from past to present that is becoming a new model for labels emerging in the 21st century. This CD and book and project surrounds the life of Arizona Dranes, a gospel artist from the 20′s whose unique approach to piano and singing became a main staple of the Pentecostal black churches in many states across the US. A blind woman from Texas, it was the piano that became her stake to vision in this world at the very young age of 3 and would serve as her means of expressing the good word. Clasically trained in piano and vocals from the beginning of childhood to her young adulthood, Arizona Dranes was a deeply seasoned musician whose veracious and pristine playing entered the bodies and controlled so many under what church goers at the time felt was the voice of the holy spirit.
When Tompkins Square sent us He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizone Dranes I had no clue what to expect. After reading the booklet it became the utmost important task to move all other assignments to the side and immerse myself into the gospel piano style of Arizona Dranes. If you think of Little Richard, Ray Charles and the other highly expressive piano players who could never sit still, than you can thank Arizona Dranes for the foundations into raising the spirit in a house full of people ready to be consumed by music under the direction of god. Her background is fully explained in as much detail as possible as bits and pieces have been researched to fill in as many gaps as possible. With 19 recordings completed for Chicago’s Okeh Records, the influential label who would be one of the first to take a chance on “race records”, it’s wonderful when reading about Arizona Dranes first sessions being side by side to the infamous Louie Armstrong sessions that launched his career with the same label.
July 1926 would be the first session Arizona Dranes would complete for the label and she would later be back in the studio in November of that year for more session work. At the time of the recordings, techniques in capturing sound were still very primitive, so the restoration team on this project used the best available sources to remaster and revitalize the music. What they have done is nothing short of amazing as you hear the deep, soulful resonance of a blind woman from birth whose solitude came into the missionary work she completed her entire life and the sounds of that came from her fingers and into the piano. The compilation is presented in order the label choose, not the order they were recorded at, giving balance to the arrangement of guests she brought along with the solo pieces she completed in those same sessions.
Imagine an age when religion was one of a few escapes in life towards the harsh inequalities of the land you live in. The Pentecostal churches of Los Angeles sparked a revolution in the minds of many and Arizona Dranes was one of the first to take momentum from this foundation of moving people with the holy spirit and into record form. The recordings present on He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes sounds raw, soulful, and contains a lot of what people at the time were calling devils music. Arizona Dranes would attribute her style to rag time and many other forms of music at the time but the lyrics always praised god and you can only imagine how this would have sounded in a church moving through the halls and into the people’s claps.
The story of Arizona Dranes is remarkable and is surely to find the hearts of many whose interest sway into the turn of the 20th century and the roots of American music. Gospel music has never sounded better than the 19 tracks that grace He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes. A must own item from Tompkins Square that is releasing later this month.
Book by Michael Corcoran. 78 transfers by Christopher King. Design by Susan Archie.