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Heavenly 'Sacred Steel'
The House of God's Little-Known Sound Goes Mainstream

Listen to Liane Hansen's reportListen to Liane Hansen's report

August 5, 2001 -- The pedal steel guitar is an innovation on the resonant steel guitar. It looks like a guitar neck propped up on metal table legs, and has pedals and knee levers to raise and lower the strings and change their pitch.

Robert Randolph demonstrates sacred steel
Randolph demonstrates "sacred steel" music with his pedal steel guitar.
Photo: Ned Wharton, NPR

The instrument first found its way into the House of God, an African-American Pentecostal denomination with churches in Jamaica and the U.S., in the 1930s. It has since become an integral part of their Sunday services.

Until recently, this little-known musical tradition, called “sacred steel,” was mostly for those fortunate few who attend the weekly House of God services. But that's changing thanks to a young musician named Robert Randolph.

Randolph, the son of a deacon and a minister, took up pedal steel guitar at 17. Just seven years later, he has become one of the most original and talented practitioners of the sacred steel form.

The Word
Cover of Randolph's new CD, The Word
Photo: Ropeadope Records
Cuts from the album:
• "Waiting on My Wings
• "Call Him by His Name"

Randolph was discovered late last year by the mainstream music industry and is taking his heavenly sound to a wider audience. The Word, featuring Randolph, keyboardist John Medeski and roots rockers from the Mississippi Allstars has just been released, and Randolph is now touring the club circuit. He already has legions of die-hard fans, from college students to music-industry professionals who think they are seeing a first glimpse of a truly special musician.

Randolph says he's well prepared to face any criticism that might come he way. “There’s no harder place to play than the church,” he says. “You’ve got some major critics in the church.”

Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen recently visited Randolph at the House of God church in Orange, New Jersey, where he demonstrated his instrument and spoke about his work on The Word.

This piece was produced by Ned Wharton.

Web Resources:

Visit the official Robert Randolph web site.

Visit the official Web site of The Word for more information on Robert Randolph's new CD.