Rev. J. M.
Gates of Atlanta was by far the most recorded preacher prior
to World War II. His career began in 1926 and ended fifteen
years later with this, his final recorded sermon. It was the
eighth sermon he had recorded on a Christmas theme. All of
them were variants on the first two, "Death Might Be Your
Santa Claus" and "Where Will You Be Christmas Day?" This
recording derives mostly from the second theme but it
overlaps with the first in its suggestions of death,
violence, and the jailhouse. Blues artists sang about
Christmas and Santa Claus, and their themes were often
equally grim and melancholy. For those on the bottom,
Christmas was a reminder of how far down they were. Rev.
Gates was born in 1884 and died in 1945. For many years he
pastored the Streamline Baptist Church in Atlanta, and his
stature was no doubt enhanced by his very successful
recording career that included more than 200 songs and
sermons. He had the biggest black funeral in Atlanta prior
to that of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Gates typically used
one male and two female members of his congregation to
respond to his sermons and sometimes help in singing a hymn.
Their repetitions of his phrases and words of encouragement
are typical of traditional African American church services,
making this a good example of the style.
- Dr. David Evans
preacher J.M. Gates was one of the most prolifically
recorded black artists of the early 20th century, with over
200 sides on wax between the mid-'20s and his death in 1945
(he once recorded 23 titles in a week, at just two
sessions). His sermons and musical numbers appeared on a
variety of labels (Victor, Bluebird, Okeh, Gennett), though
Gates often re-recorded his most popular sermons - "Death's
Black Train Is Coming," "Oh Death Where Is Thy Sting," "Goin'
to Die with the Staff in My Hands" - for multiple labels.
Born in 1884, Gates ministered at Atlanta's Calvary Church
and first recorded in 1926. Beginning in April, he recorded
almost 100 sides by the end of the year. Understandably, his
output slowed slightly during the rest of the late '20s, and
the advent of the Great Depression resulted in a four-year
period off records. He returned in 1934, and recorded about
20 more sides until his death in 1945. Experts estimate that
Gates recorded at least a quarter of all the sermons that
appeared before 1943.
- John Bush, All Music Guide
From 1914 to his death, Gates was the pastor
of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Rock Dale Park, Atlanta,
Georgia. He had a very prolific recording career, recording
over 200 sides between 1926 and 1941, including frequent
re-recordings. Experts estimate that at least a quarter of
all sermons commercially released on record before 1943 were
recorded by Gates.
His first best-seller, 1926's "Death's
Black Train Is Coming", sold 35,000 copies by the end of its
release year. Many of his recordings were strong warnings of
the hellish punishments that awaited sinners. Gates is
credited with introducing the gospel music of former blues
artist Thomas A. Dorsey into the black gospel market via his
crusades. His funeral drew the largest crowd of any memorial
service in the city before Martin Luther King, Jr. In
addition to a Columbia Records collection and a "complete
works" set from Document Records, Gates' work has been
frequently featured in gospel and roots music anthologies,
including Harry Smith's influential Anthology of American
- Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._M._Gates)