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He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes

By Thomas Fawcett, Fri., Oct. 26, 2012

by Michael Corcoran
Tompkins Square, 48 pp., $24.99

Long relegated to a historical footnote, Arizona Dranes was the architect of the gospel beat, and the first person to ever cut a gospel record on piano. Singing praise songs over boogie-woogie made the blind Texas native a precursor to Little Richard, Ray Charles, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the gospel icon who, as a child, sat in the pews of the same Pentecostal church in Chicago where Dranes bore witness to the Lord. Her "barrelhouse Christian" style was preserved on 16 tracks recorded from 1926 to 1928, all faithfully restored and remastered for He Is My Story. The complete recordings are tucked inside a 48-page hardcover book exhaustively researched and lovingly written by veteran Austin music scribe Michael Corcoran, who cobbled together the most thorough Dranes biography to date from census and school records, newspaper clippings, and archival letters. Dranes' music was shaped by the Church of God in Christ, a black Pentecostal sect known for catching the Holy Ghost. Her musical gift, however, was no divine miracle. Documented here for the first time, Dranes was classically trained for more than 15 years at Austin's Institute of Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youths, the best free education a black woman in Texas could hope for at the time. An impressive collection of otherworldly recordings and dogged primary research, He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes is an essential piece of Texas, American, and black music history.

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