By Ambre Dromgoole
Roxie Moore is an unsung gospel songwriter of the early 20th century, having written countless pieces for popular quartets, most notably the Dixie Hummingbirds. This exhibit tracks her developmental trajectory from a childhood spent listening at the intersections of jazz, blues, and gospel music to her dear friendship with the Godmother of Rock and Roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. We end with two of her most noteworthy songwriting credits. Through sound, foregrounded in Moore’s personal experience and commentary, I illustrate the close kinship between the musical formation of gospel, blues, and rock and roll. As Roxie Moore explains, “I can’t say I know it’s a fact but… growing up gospel music and blues music it sort of had a similar sound, a lot of it did.”
On Musical Experiences Growing Up:
“The first song that comes to my mind that I heard on the gramophone was ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ being so young I can’t remember too many of them, but I remember that.”
Irving Berlin wrote “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911. This is an image of the record’s packaging, which highlights Berlin as composer and Emma Carus as performer.
“Then we had hymns. I remember them having a record of ‘Nearer My God to Thee’”
“Nearer My God to Thee” is a popular hymn written by Sarah Flower Adams in the 19th-century. The YouTube recording is of Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, a quartet style gospel group, the members of which would have been familiar to Moore, popular in the early-mid-20th-century.
On Friendship with Sister Rosetta Tharpe:
“I met Rosetta when we were both teenagers, Rosetta Thorpe; I met her because we belonged to the same church organization. And Rosetta came and I was living in Baltimore at the time and Rosetta came to Baltimore to run a revival. “
“Rosetta and I became like sisters…. She had to know something different she was in a class all by herself, nobody else could do it. I tried to get her to teach me, she wouldn’t teach you one thing not one note would she teach you.”
Mercury published this recording of Rosetta Tharpe’s Gospel Train in the early 20th century. It includes several notable performances including “Jericho” and “Up Above My Head There’s Music in the Air.” Moore often reflected on her travels with Rosetta. In her interviews she talks about watching and participating as she made music with other artists across genre and style.
On Writing for the Dixie Hummingbirds:
“I used to just walk around the house and begin singing songs that I’d never heard before, if they sounded pretty good I’d put them down on paper. And this one is the first one that I gave to the Dixie Hummingbirds and it’s called “I’ll Keep on Living After I Die.”
“I’ll Keep on Living After I Die” is a song from the Dixie Hummingbird’s record Our Prayer for Peace. This particular recording is from 1964.
“The next one that became widely known and played a lot was “The Lord Be With Me” and I remember just going to the living room and sitting down to the piano and just started playing and singing it.”
“Will the Lord Be With Me” was released on Our Prayer for Peace as well.
“Will the Lord Be With Me” that was really the biggest seller.”
Roxie Moore would go on to receive recognition from BMI, Broadcast Music Industry, after Dixie Hummingbirds member, Ira Tucker, insisted she receive credit for her contributions. “The money part really never bothered me” she said, “I would just give my songs to The Hummingbirds and let them record them… He (Ira) brought the forms and I signed them.” Moore passed away on February 13, 2012 leaving behind a legacy of family, music, love, and spirituality. She attributed her success in life to God and believed that true religion was epitomized in your daily actions towards the people around you.
Special Thank You:
I would like to thank Jerry Zolten, author of Great God A’Mighty! The Dixie Hummingbirds: Celebrating the Rise of Soul Gospel Music, for his help during this process. His research on the Dixie Hummingbirds, documentaries, interviews, and conversations were invaluable resources. Thank you for trusting me with Ms. Moore, I hope I did her proud.