Interview: Almeta Ingram-Miller On The Ingramettes' 'Take A Look In The Book' NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Almeta Ingram-Miller about reforming her late mother's gospel group, the new album Take a Look in the Book and how gospel can provide comfort in times of crisis.
NPR logo

Almeta Ingram-Miller On The Ingramettes And The Power Of Gospel During Crisis

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/819029599/819725525" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Almeta Ingram-Miller On The Ingramettes And The Power Of Gospel During Crisis

Almeta Ingram-Miller On The Ingramettes And The Power Of Gospel During Crisis

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/819029599/819725525" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Now we're going to take a break from the news that's all obsessing us and listen to something that's meant to take us to a higher place.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE SURE YOU HOLD (IN TIMES LIKE THESE)")

MAGGIE INGRAM AND THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Be sure you hold and grip...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Maggie Ingram was a trailblazer in her time. She was known as the gospel queen of Richmond, Va. She founded the all-female black gospel group Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes in 1961. They played together for more than five decades.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE SURE YOU HOLD (IN TIMES LIKE THESE)")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) We need a savior...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Sing, Tina.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) ...In times like these. We need an anchor...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The group stopped making music in 2015 after Ingram's death. But now her daughter is bringing back a new version of the Ingramettes with a new sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE A LOOK IN THE BOOK")

ALMETA INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) Take one look in the book.

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Just look in the book.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) It's in the holy bible. Yes, it is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The album is called "Take A Look In The Book." And Almeta Ingram-Miller joins me now. Welcome.

INGRAM-MILLER: How are you? How are you? I'm just fine, Lulu. I'm just fine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am the better for hearing that music, I must tell you (laughter).

INGRAM-MILLER: I'm so glad. I'm so glad. That was the intent, not just to stay true to the roots that brought us this far but then to take it a little further so that the music would evolve as our audiences have evolved.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Well, let me first ask you. You are also a reverend. What are you telling your flock during these difficult times?

INGRAM-MILLER: I started with telling the Ingramettes this. These are not the first difficult times that we have faced. If you look at the history of the Ingramettes, a group created, born, raised in pre-civil rights South, these are not the first difficult times that we have faced. But what this does - that it gives us a chance now to use that hope and to use that faith that we've always sang about, that we've always talked about. It has given us a heightened sense of the fact that we need one another in this life. And I look at that as the silver lining in all of this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's talk about your mother. During the civil rights movement, how much did that influence the performances that the increments ended up doing and their music?

INGRAM-MILLER: I believe that my mom has always had a social activist conscience, even though she didn't know that's what it was (laughter). And here's what I mean by that. We partnered with a church here back in the '70s to go out to the prison when the preacher would go out there to preach. One of the prisoners stops my mom. And he says, ma'am, you know what? I've got a wife and two kids. And I haven't seen them. And they would really love to hear this music that you're doing. Is there any way that you could bring them up here the next time you all come to sing?

So she rents a big van. She rents a big bus and cooks some food to feed the children and the families and begins to take them with us to go to the prisons and so that, you know, they could actually see their relatives who were incarcerated. So see. For her, it was just a matter of doing what was right. And that's the way it was all through the civil rights movement.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I understand for this album you actually recorded most of it in three days with very few retakes because you were trying to recreate the feeling of a live performance from those days. Let's listen to "The Family Prayer."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FAMILY PRAYER")

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) Come on now.

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Come on.

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) And let's have family prayer. We got to kneel down at the altar.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) You know where.

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) You know where.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) Hey. Come on.

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) Come on now...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is particularly pertinent for these times, when families are all in very close quarters (laughter).

INGRAM-MILLER: Oh, my goodness. And - oh, man. That takes me back. That takes me back. That was a ritual in our house. On Sunday morning, that's the time that you gather around the table. And for most African Americans, that is the boardroom table. That is the conference table, the kitchen table. And you gather around.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: People are rediscovering that now.

INGRAM-MILLER: And you thank God (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FAMILY PRAYER")

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) You come on, too.

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) I remember...

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) ...A long time ago...

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) You come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) ...My old mother.

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) She used to have...

THE INGRAMETTES: (Laughter) Come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) ...Family prayer.

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) You come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) She would call us...

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) ...'Round the table...

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) ...Sunday morning...

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Come on.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) ...One by one...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to listen now to one of the other songs on this album, "When Jesus Comes."

INGRAM-MILLER: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN JESUS COME")

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) When Jesus come, when my Jesus come, when my Jesus come, when my Jesus come, everything'll be all right.

THE INGRAMETTES: (Singing) Everything'll be all right.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) It'll be all right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I almost want to cry.

INGRAM-MILLER: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about this song.

INGRAM-MILLER: This is so wonderful because it actually takes us back to our roots of singing a cappella. That's how Mom taught all of us how to sing. While other little children were outside playing and everything, you know, she's got us around in a circle in the house. And she's got a stick, beating time out with the stick and teaching us to sing each and every one of our parts. That's one of my favorite songs.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've mentioned that gospel music is the music of solace. It brings us closer to faith in difficult times. So what song do you want us to listen to right now that will help us when we need it so much?

INGRAM-MILLER: One of the influences because we have kind of moved out of our comfort zone - so while we grew up singing in rural African American churches and now even the larger African American church venues - that was our main audience. But what we found out is that the music transcends race. It transcends barriers. It transcends genders. And so one of the things that I've enjoyed most was getting to know the bluegrass bands and the country music bands that we've become friends with. And so I always listen to their music. So I'd like to listen a little bit to "I've Endured."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE ENDURED")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) Many years ago, I climbed the hills and valleys.

INGRAM-MILLER: And I first heard it done by the White Top Mountain Band, with an upright bass pickin and everybody clapping their hands. But I listened to the lyrics. And it so paralleled my mom's life and our lives. So that's one of the things that I've said - we've been influenced by the people that we have now met as we've gone on to these folk, festival-type venues that are not African American people. We've just been so blessed by them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE ENDURED")

INGRAM-MILLER: (Singing) Help me holler...

THE INGRAMETTES: How long can one...

INGRAM-MILLER: How long can one...

THE INGRAMETTES: Endure?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Almeta Ingram-Miller. She's the leader of the legendary Ingramettes. Their new album is "Take A Look In The Book." Ma'am, I cannot thank you enough. Thank you.

INGRAM-MILLER: Thank you so much for having me. Listen. While we're waiting, know that we're all in the master's care and that as long as we love and care for each other, we'll make it through this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Amen.

INGRAM-MILLER: Thank you.

Copyright © 2020 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.