Evangelist Maggie Lee Ingram is unquestionably the “Gospel Queen” of Richmond, Virginia. Along with her family group, the Ingramettes, Maggie has delighted Richmond audiences for more than fifty years. Along the way, she has performed at such illustrious stages as the Kennedy Center and the National Folk Festival. In 2009 Maggie received the Virginia Heritage Award for a lifetime of excellence in the folk and traditional arts.
Hampton Roads, the growing metropolitan region at the convergence of the James River, Atlantic Ocean, and the Chesapeake Bay, has long been one of our country’s most musically fertile regions, producing world-class performers in a broad range of musical styles from jazz to rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and perhaps most notably, gospel. In its heyday in the early-to-mid twentieth century, the region became known internationally for its classic Tidewater Gospel Sound, sung in four-part harmony, without musical accompaniment. The Paschall Brothers are the current torch bearers of this traditional singing style.
A few years back at his Hills of Home Festival in Coeburn, Virginia, Ralph Stanley brought out a special guest during his set that he and his wife Jimmie wanted us to hear. There, alone on that stage, Frank Newsome sang “Gone Away With a Friend.” I’m sure there were many others like me who were riveted and had a profound experience. On many levels it was one of the most powerful, spiritual, mournful, emotional, beautiful, and hopeful things I have ever heard. There is a purity about Frank’s singing that brings a soul-stirring, heart-tugging peacefulness that is beyond words.
I am happy to declare that there are many things worth remembering about my childhood. There are lots of memories that have evaporated over time, but the earliest sights and sounds that still ring the most clearly are those of music and singing. I have come to understand that the love of making music with one’s voice has long been a central part of my family. I may never know exactly how far back the story goes, but I do know that singing has to be just about as much a part of my being as living and breathing.