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The Voices of East Harlem - Right On, Be Free - Live at Sing Sing Prison - 11/22/1972

Strap the hell in, because this one will blow you right out of your seat.

I wish I could, for the life of me, remember where I encountered this a couple months ago. Quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, the Voices of East Harlem utilize the raw spiritual power of a gospel choir while maintaining the looseness and energy of funk. Matching sacred music’s most powerful weapon with the electric energy of funk and the theme of empowerment, then performed in a room of imprisoned men, the intensity of this particular performance is remarkably potent.

This is yet another opener (decent theme to loosely adhere to this week) and title track off their debut album. Upon investigation, their subsequent albums, while still at a glance, terrific (their self-titled third album tends to be their most celebrated), the choir falls into the background to support lead vocalists Gerri Griffin and Monica Burress. 

Shortly after the group’s appearance in this concert in front of the prison (filmed for a documentary and also featuring performances by BB King, Joan Baez and Jimmy Walker), the Voices began working with Curtis Mayfield and his Impressions replacement Leroy Hutson. I wish there was some way I could just get a master list of everything Mayfield encountered. Every time I encounter something that just pins my ears back from late 60’s/early 70’s soul, it seems Curtis is inevitably involved. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to make it an objective to sample every album on the Curtom label that I haven’t listened to yet. But for now, I think I’ll just watch this video six more times. - MO

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