When I first heard of this program change, I did not expect Mr. Anderson to be a scholar, but I foolishly took for granted that he would at least try for the gospel truth. The misinformation may not be deliberate, but Anderson's story of Ellington's "Come Sunday," and how Mahalia Jackson came to record it is pure hogwash. Contrary to Anderson's story, Mahalia was also not who the song was written for—she sang it with Duke's orcherstra at the 1958 Newport Festival and they recorded it for Columbia that same year, but it's premiere performance took place in 1943, with Betty Roché doing the vocal. Several other singers rendered the song before Mahalia did it. Furthermore, it is not a gospel song. Anderson obviously relies on liner notes and internet blurbs for his information, but he was batting zero this morning. Listen for yourself.
When criticism over Reimers' programming decision surfaced, his defenders were quick to say that WBAI would benefit from such a program. Based upon Reimers' own description, Mitchel Cohen, Andrea Katz, and others described a program that visited churches in the area and either recorded or presented live performances. That sounded good, but it was as off the mark as it was unrealistic. Reimers repeated his "vision" on the air a week ago, but Janet Coleman had the questions Mitchel, Katz, et al, should have asked themselves. Here's a compiled excerpt from that confrontation:
You can hear the uncut version of this impromptu meeting here. So you see, "High Praize" was not the interesting, unique church-hopping show we were led to expect. Notice also that Reimers scheduled it for Sunday morning in order that churchgoers might listen before going off to a service. This clearly validates the concern over WBAI promoting religion and you may have noticed that Janet Coleman had a good question along that order. Reimers was not prepared to handle it.
Getting back to the program's WBAI premiere, it was a rudderless mishmash of sounds aimed at black churchgoers. People who tuned in to hear gospel were cheated—what they heard was a pedestrian disc jockey stroking his ego and showing his ignorance of the subject. What they heard including this sort of thing, which might have been alright in a different context on another station. This is what he nearly killed two fine programs for:
As a matter of fact, Anderson played more of that a couple of hours later when he did his "High Praise" all over again—sans the appeasing selections and the "z" in the title—on WHCR, in an adjoining studio. He made several mentions of his celebrating 18 years on WHCR and now also being heard on WBAI, where he just conducted the station's first gospel program. The latter claim is not true and we can only hope that the same soon applies to the former.