Cover Image: Peace Be Still

Peace Be Still

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Member Reviews

A wonderful book by Gospel Music historian Robert Marovich - released just months after his four CD/ coffee table book on Rev. James Cleveland. this book homes in on Cleveland's most famous song.

A must for those interested in the gospel music of the African American gospel music.

Steve Ramm
"anything Phonographic"
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“Master, the tempest is raging
Oh the billows are tossing high
The sky is o’er shadowed with blackness
No shelter or help is nigh…

The winds and the waves shall obey my will, peace be still, peace be still, peace be still, peace be still…”

-“Peace Be Still”, James Cleveland and the Angelic Choir (1963)

It was said that James Baldwin was “thrilled” when he heard James Cleveland say the opening word “Master” in the song “Peace Be Still”. That one word was so powerful that Baldwin believe Cleveland “could kill him with the simple reading” of it. The song was originally published in 1874 by Mary Baker and Horatio Palmer and was very popular in the 19th Century, it was even sung at the many funerals of President James Garfield; but then Black folks got a hold of it and made it into a gospel hit in 1963. In that year it became a single and the title track of Volume 3 of the Sunday Service Series, making James Cleveland and the Angelic Choir into national stars. Peace Be Still by Robert Marovich tells the story of how one album that was recorded live in a Newark, NJ church days after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, changed the way gospel music was recorded. The album led Billboard’s Top Spirituals charts for a couple of years and sold between 450,000 and 800,000 copies, a rare occurrence for a gospel album at that time.

This amazing book reads like you’re watching a documentary. It includes interviews with Angelic Choir members and music historians. In one of my favorite chapters (Chapter 7), Marovich gives a song by song breakdown of the album. He explains the history of each song, the music theory behind it, and their overall legacy. 11 songs were recorded but only 9 were included in the actual album (the other two songs were included in later albums). This chapter was so good that I listened to original recording of each song after I read Marovich’s descriptions.

Marovich ends the book by chronicling the album’s immediate reception as well as its lasting legacy. Marovich reveals that 50 versions of the title song “Peace Be Still” were recorded between the 1950s and 1990s. After the 1963 album, the most popular version was recorded by Vanessa Bell Armstrong in 1983. Cleveland enjoyed her version so much that he adopted her arrangement for himself. However, the album’s greatest legacy, according to Marovich, is that Peace Be Still showed that recording live gospel albums can be successful and to this day live gospel albums are still being recorded. Without Peace Be Still there would have not been an Amazing Grace by Aretha Franklin and James Cleveland, which later surpassed Peace Be Still as the best selling gospel album of all time.

If you grew up on gospel music then you must read this book, even if you have never listened to this album before. Once you read it you will have no choice but to listen and revel in the genius of James Cleveland, the Angelic Choir, and the work of art they created together called Peace Be Still.
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You can tell this author has a great love for gospel music and it's history. I'm not a big fan of gospel music but on occasion will listen to my favorites. While reading this book, I was definitely motivated to revisit Peace Be Still and give it a listen. And with this added context,  I felt like I was there. 

My favorite thing about this book was the six degrees of separation feel it had between the church choirs and singers. It was a who's who of gospel greats all buzzing around each other.  Some at the beginning of careers and others moderately famous. This was expertly researched and even included a few pictures. James Cleveland and the Angelic Choir wrote the book on live performance albums with Peace Be Still setting a standard for all to follow and Robert Marovich has written a wonderful book on that legacy.
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NetGalley ARC Educator 550974

Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea. Or demons or men or whatever it be. No water can swallow the ship where lies

The Master of ocean and earth and skies. They shall sweetly obey my will. Peace be still, peace be still. They all shall sweetly obey my will, peace, peace be still

There are hymns that soothe, that uplift and those that lead to praise. Peace be still, is one that transcends feelings and emotions. Be it the James Cleveland version or the Vanessa Bell Armstrong.

This book covers the before and after of the recording of this masterpiece. Even if you have not heard this song, after reading the book you will search for it, listen and share it. 

Fantastic job Bro. Marovich, fantastic job. I am so glad you had the dream and listened to the Mothers of the church.
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The live album where Rev. James Cleveland performed this gospel classic, is one of my favorites. I was so greatly happy to receive the book for review. What a glorious book the author has written. So nice to read not only about this song, but others, along with reading about other gospel artist. An added bonus was to find Rev. Lawrence was also included. Outstanding book!!! Highly recommended. Thanks to Netgalley, the author and the publisher for the arc of this book in return for my honest review. Receiving this book in this manner had no bearing on this review.
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