Horace Clarence Boyer: Remembering A Gospel Singer And Scholar Horace Clarence Boyer had a profound impact on gospel music over the past 50 years. He was one half of the Boyer Brothers, but was best known as one of the first scholars to formally study African-American sacred music. Boyer died in July at age 74.
NPR logo

Remembering A Gospel Singer And Scholar

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/120949810/120945471" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Remembering A Gospel Singer And Scholar

Remembering A Gospel Singer And Scholar

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/120949810/120945471" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And from member station WMFE in Orlando, Mark Simpson has this profile.

MARK SIMPSON: The Boyer Brothers hit the road before they were even teenagers. But James Boyer says their father, a pastor, set some ground rules.

JAMES BOYER: As little brothers will do, you fight. And my father did not want us to fight each other. And so, he gave us an ultimatum when we were 10 and 11. And he said, you cannot go anywhere to sing until you stop fighting a year. That was the longest year of my life. And after that year, I never hit him again.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON: James and Horace came from a family that took the Gospel seriously and that gave their singing credibility, says composer Carl Maultsby.

CARL MAULTSBY: When one heard the Boyer Brothers, it was clear that they were not just performers. They were actually ministers of music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THE BOYER BROTHERS: (Singing) Come with me to the altar and you can have what the altar gives. Wait with me at the altar and you can have what the altar gives.

SIMPSON: They began in Central Florida and headed to the Midwest where they had relatives. James Boyer remembers returning from one of those trips.

BOYER: We were on the Greyhound bus, of course. And we saw signs as we came into Nashville that said Mahalia Jackson is singing at the Ryman Auditorium Sunday night.

SIMPSON: Boyer says they called their father and asked if they could stay to hear Jackson.

BOYER: It was common practice in those days for local singers to sing first and then the star attraction would close the program. We went backstage and said, Ms. Jackson, we're singers. We would like to sing a song on your program. Well, she said, sure, boys, you can sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "STEP BY STEP")

BOYER BROTHERS: (Singing) Step by step I'm nearing the kingdom.

SIMPSON: The Boyer Brothers sang "Step by Step." Horace was 15, James was 16. The next day, they recorded it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "STEP BY STEP")

BOYER BROTHERS: (Singing) Jesus will welcome me in the kingdom. Oh, step by step...

SIMPSON: The song brought the Boyer Brothers a measure of fame. The little money they got, they put towards their education. Horace Boyer decided to pursue advanced degrees at the Eastman School of Music. But his brother says Horace had to convince administrators.

BOYER: When he shows up and says, I want to do my research on gospel music, they told him he could not do it because there were not enough resources in the library. Well, he said to them, if you will allow me, I will go and record some of the music of which I speak and then do the theoretical analysis.

SIMPSON: Horace Boyer's research into gospel music was collected in the 1995 book "How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel." James Boyer says, as much as they enjoyed singing, it's his brother's writing that will likely stand the test of time.

BOYER: Once you stop traveling and recording, new generations don't hear your sound. So I think his legacy is going to be in the academic community.

SIMPSON: James Boyer's brother never stopped researching gospel. In 1999, Horace Boyer told NPR about checking out some new sounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HORACE BOYER: Gospel has shifted downtown to the teenagers and they - I couldn't see. I had to stand up the whole time. But I wouldn't have missed it for anything because it says now that gospel music is popular music.

SIMPSON: Horace Boyer wanted to spread gospel music beyond churches and even concert stages, says his brother James.

BOYER: His idea was, why not? It is, quote, "Just as respectable, it is just as moving as the secular music." And so, he took it on in a way, kind of to prove to the academic community that it had its place on the American music scene.

SIMPSON: For NPR News, I'm Mark Simpson in Orlando.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.