Geraldine and Donald Gay
You can tell this is going to be a great record the first time Geraldine Gay starts ad-libbing and urging on her younger brother Donald—off-mike. Geraldine basically does her thing on piano while Donald handles the vocals (even getting off a good duet with his son Gregory on “There Is a Fountain”). But when Geraldine feels the spirit (on more than one song) and starts spontaneously harmonizing in the distant background, the set really catches fire.
In the 1950s, Geraldine was a member of Savoy recording artists the Gay Sisters, who were a seminal group during what’s now known as the Golden Age of Chicago gospel. While Geraldine is the only surviving member, she continues to perform with her bro at the Prayer Center Church of God in Christ on Chicago’s South Side (where Donald is pastor). Geraldine and Donald don’t try to knock you down with religious fervor, but the songs jolt you before you have time to notice. There’s a subtle jazz influence here—Geraldine isn’t compared to pianist Erroll Garner for nothing, and Donald belts out the lyrics like Count Basie Orchestra crooner Joe Williams. Things come to a close with a marathon ten-minute version of the gospel standard “God Has Been Good to Me,” and the first five minutes and change are devoted to Geraldine riffing away on the keyboard. Those five minutes fly by quickly.
Like a lot of traditional music, gospel is one of those idioms in which any kind of alteration or updating could fall flat in the wrong hands. If Geraldine and Donald’s bluesy jazz touches get over, it’s because the two remember that gospel is ground zero.