Wade In The Water: An Introduction
In 1994, when Wade in the Water first aired on NPR member stations, the world was different. Many of the voices featured in the series were alive, and were generous with their support. Today, some of those voices have been stilled. But this series, documenting African American sacred music traditions spanning more than 200 years, remains vital because of them.
Wade was an experiment in recording music and musical events, amassing scholarship and conducting interviews in order to make all of those elements accessible to a wider audience. As a first-time partnership between NPR and the Smithsonian Institution, it featured a wide range of styles and subcultures and documented the cultural impact of music on real lives and diverse communities.
Over a five-year production period, Wade was guided by the steady hand, artistic integrity and groundbreaking scholarship of Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon — historian, musician, MacArthur "genius" and the series' creator and narrator. And Wade's production team members brought our personal and professional best to the series, trekking throughout the country to gather relevant material.
We traveled to small towns in Georgia and Alabama and big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles to record baptismal and congregational services, and to hear touching individual stories about the power of faith and communal singing. We walked through the hallowed halls of Fisk University, birthplace of the concert spiritual, to learn more about the enduring legacy that the Fisk Jubilee Singers left the world.
And we interviewed gospel music royalty: Walter and Edwin Hawkins, Pop and Mavis Staples, Marvin and CeCe Winans shared insights about what inspired them to write, perform and even confront some criticisms of their popular contemporary sacred songs.
All the while, we dove into archives and personal music collections nationwide to find original recordings and needed firsthand documentation.
To say that we all were transformed in the process is an understatement. Some things we learned along the way:
In turn, here's what we've tried to provide to you:
We submit that every Wade program is unique, offering its own set of life-expanding worldviews, and that anyone who truly listens or (re-listens) to Wade will be changed. Please enjoy this life-affirming and joyous music series during its 25th anniversary year.
Stream A Selection Of Songs From The Series
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