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Freddy J.Angstmann :: Black Gospel Music in Europe
by Serena Blanco

Interview with Freddy J.Angstmann, Gospel Producer, Switzerland

Q. Why do you feel Gospel is received so well in Europe ?

A. Afroamerican music period is well received here in the old world. There is many reasons for it. I love it because it’s real.

Q. When and how did you meet Rev. Johnny Thompson ?

A. I met Johnny back in 1968. He was the piano player for the legendary Stars Of Faith Of Black Nativity and I was 22 years old - their Road Manager. During a few off days we spent together in Brussels (1969) Johnny gave me a brochure of his own group - which he founded 1965 The Johnny Thompson Singers. The plan to bring them over to Europe did not get out of my head. 1971 we did it. The Johnny Thompson Singers since then toured the world over and I cannot even count the tours over 60) and concerts (over 2000) anymore..........we are still together and never ever signed a contract. All our agreements were, are and will be one hundred percent mutual.

Q. What impact do you feel gospel has made on music in the past and present?

A. A strong one indeed. Almost all commercial music of today is based on Gospel somehow. If it isn’t the music pattern it is the performing artist and if it isn’t the artist it may be the sound, the beat, the feeling. Gospel is the base of the today’s r&b, the “holy” brother of the blues and after all the heart of jazz.

Q. What type of groups were on the European scene first with gospel music, choirs, quartets?

A. I guess the very first were “The Fisk Jubilee Singers”. They came to Europe back in 1877 to perform for raise money to build the Fisk University. But the ones I do remember are Mahalia Jackson, The Stars Of Faith, Alex Bradford, Marion Williams, The Patterson Singers, Bishop Kelly, The Golden Gate Quartet, Sally Martin, Bessie Griffin.

Q. What other Gospel groups have you booked in Europe?

A. Beside The Johnny Thompson Singers I brought Rev Fulton Gospel Singers Ensemble (1974), Alex Bradford/Alberta Carter (1974), Marion Williams (1974), The Pennsylvania District Choir (1976), Barbara Purdy/Gloria Roberts (1981), Silvia Wright/Lee Cochran (1991), The Davi Winslow Gospel choral (1992), The Olde Tyme Gospel Singers (1998, 1999, 2000), Brenda Waters (1999) across the water but I also booked (still do) a few Afroamerican Gospel artists travelling or living in Europe, such as The Golden Gate Quartet, The Stars Of Faith, Jerome Van Jones, JoAnn Pickens, Hedreich Nichols and Richard Broadnax.

Q. If you compare Gospel music to taday and in the earlier days how does it differ?

A. More quantity, less quality.

Q. Are they gospel groups from Europe? How do they differ from USA groups?

A. Yes there are many many European Gospel artists. I don’t follow this scene very close but I do know that some of them are very successful. Nobody can stop the worldwide gospel movement to mention one positive aspect of all those singers, bands, groups, choirs.

Q. Who generally attends a Gospel concert, young or older adults?

A. There is no barrier at all. No language barrier, age barrier, no social barrier. Gospel draws audiences of an extreme variety. Young and old, rich and poor, saints and sinners, music lovers and cultural freeks.....

Q. In what countries have you produced Gospel Concerts?

A. Let me think. I give it to you in alphabetical order, and you will count them, okay? Austria, Belaruse, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Croatia, Czechoslovakia, Czeck Republic, Egypt, Eire, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Iceland , Israel, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Soviet Union, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Yugoslavia.

Q. Is there a place where you would like to book The Johnny Thompson Singers?

A. Of course. My dream is China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and all over Africa........and I am working on it every day.

Q. What is themost memorable concert you expeienced with the Johnny Thompson Singers?

A. There are quiet a few. The very first one in Berlin (1971), because I booked the group before I even heard them. I just knew Johnny, that was good enough for me. And I wasn’t wrong either. Then 1972 when the JTS were the first Gospel group performing at Montreux Jazz Festival, 1984 for the first time at the Opera house in Zurich, 1989 at the Opera house in Cairo and last but not least the first time with a big orchestra during the first “Gospel Christmas” tour in 1996.

Q. I understand that Rev. Johnny Thompson is also a playwrigt?

A. Yes and a very good one too! “Master I Want To Live”, his first Gospel-play is in Europe every year since 1997 and we will present another one this year. “Little Dark Baby” a Christmas play. “The Gospelers” is also in the back of my mind, but concrete plans will take a while........And you know, he wrote ten plays. One of them (a secular one) traveled all over the USA and even won a journalist prize in London werer they played several weeks. “Little Willy Junior’s Resurrection I am talking about.

Q. What’s the next Gospel highlights?

A. Okay, the ones I consider: On June 24th, 2000 is a big celebration for the 35th anniversary of The Johnny Thompson Singers. This will be held in Philadelphia USA and 1500 guests will be there.......including me of course.Before that “Master I Want To Live” will be in Zurich for one month, the Thompson Singers will be guests of a few European Jazz Festivals and I am also working on the tour for the fall with the Gospel Christmas concerts (this year with the chamber orchestra of Dvorak Collegium) and “Little Dark Baby” the Christmas Gospel Play... and for 2001 I would like to organize concerts with The Thompson Singers and Jessye Norman.

Q. What is Rev. Thompson’s significant approach to Gospel music that makes him different from other groups?

A. Johnny Thompson is a natural born talent, has an extremely good feeling for rhythm, sound and words, is a hard worker, a true believer and a strong leader. His sound never really changed since his first hit (for Shirley Caesar) “Stranger On The Road” it is just perfected, fuller and adjusted to the today’s world.

Q. The Johnny Thompson Singers are travelling for a few weeks in Europe. Is this good enough for a living?

A. Yes and no, but I can only speak for myself and talk about the ten thousand little things me and Johnny are doing every day. As I told you, I am working with a hand full of Afroamerican artist living in Europe, I handle a small publishing company and I am also partner in a rather busy concert promoting company here in Switzerland. Not to mention the “job” as a husband of a young wife (Rosie) and father of two “little” girls. Nadine is twelve years old, Xenia only six.Johnny’s days are even more hectic. He is pastoring The First Apostle Fire Baptized Church in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, he’s rehearsing the Johnny Thompson Singers, the different casts for the plays, he’s involved in Dorsey’s Gospel Convention and in Cleveland’s too. Besides he is writing, composing, arranging his music, preparing his preachings, organizing his church events and managing his record label “Superb Records”.

Q. Let’s talk about recordings.

A. That’s a story by itself. We produced more than three dozen albums and CD’s. We won prizes, sold pretty big numbers of copies here in Europe (especially the Christmas CD’s recorded with The English Chamber Orchestra) but for some reason (don’t ask me why) never hit the US market the way it should.

Q. But Johnny Thompson wrote so many songs!

A. Yes, big hits too. One of them “Shake The Devil Off” was in the charts for almost a year. Or do you remember: “Stranger On The Road”, “If I Perish”, “Hold Out”, “Hallelujah This Is The Highest Praise”, “The Creation”, “Get Up My Brother”, "There Must Be A Reason”, “Happy On My Way” just to mention a few.

Q. What quality in Rev. Thompson do you admire the most?

A. His talent, his sense of humor and the always positive vibrations coming from him.

Q. That’s all you can say?

A. No, of course not. I could write a book and one of these days I may even do that.

Q. What is your favorite anectote in connection with Gospel music?

A. It’s not exactly connected to Gospel, but to church and I really witnessed this: when the preacher who married this couple said to the broom to salute the bride and he, instead of kissing the bride, took military position...

Q. Is there a negative aspect to Gospel music?

A. If there is, it’s too late to think about it after being involved for three decades, don’t you think?

Q. What advice would you offer to someone just getting started in the business of singing gospel?

A. I guess it takes the same like in all walks of life. Be yourself, turn right and go straight.............
published 25.05.2005© 2005 jazz news :: home page

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