God a'mighty! That's Big Easy funeral band music bubbling out of the church doors. Have you died in your sleep and been resurrected in New Orleans?
It's an honest mistake. If you happen to be strolling past the United House of Prayer for All People in Charlotte on any given Sunday, you could be transported by the music, thinking you were down South. But this isn't New Orleans.
This is a trombone shout band, and it lives up to its name. This is the stuff that makes people get out into the church aisles and march up and down. The brassy, vibrant, uplifting music puts a swing in your step and makes you want to strut down the street, twirling an umbrella, waving a hanky.
The tradition originated with House of Prayer founder and evangelist Sweet Daddy Grace in the early '40s. Charlotte--the home of the mother church--became the cornerstone for his empire. Grace originally traveled with a single trombone player, but the excitement the horn stirred up soon led to the formation of entire brass bands. Bandleader Cedric Mangum even says New Orleans funeral bands are a spin-off of the shout-band mold. But now, the Madison Clouds of Heaven trombone shout band serves as the Charlotte House of Prayer's traveling ambassadors.
"We do our ministry through our music," says Mangum, who follows no set program. "We allow the spirit of the Lord to guide us, and that's how we normally do our performances."
The band's membership ranges from 30 to 35 members, performing in what Mangum calls Jubileeing, an old-time gospel style based on a call and response format used by many groups like the Dixie Hummingbirds.
Like older gospel groups, the band uses one repeating, pulsating chord for hypnotic effect. The technique, termed backtiming, builds excitement in the congregation shout band and paves the way for the run man.
"Once we get into a set backtiming, meaning the background plays a certain note continuously, then the run man comes in to give us some special effects, meaning some other type of runs that go on top of that," Mangum says. It's like the rhythm section with the lead singer soaring over it. "We call it building the spirit."
The spirit builders work with trumpets, trombones, baritones, sousaphones, drums and a couple of saxophones. This particular band has been together since 1965, but it's not the only one in Mangum's house.
"The Madison Faith Band don't do as many outside concerts as we do," Mangum says, referring to one of his other bands. "Our name is already established out there."
Establishing a name outside the church is a fairly recent development. The United House of Prayer's bishop started allowing shout bands to play secular venues only in the last 15 years. Since then, the word has gotten out in large part due to a Folkways Records compilation, Saint's Paradise, a Smithsonian Institute collection that features the Clouds of Heaven along with other sacred Charlotte bands, like Madison's Lively Stones and McCollough Sons of Thunder.
It's a rare glimpse into a world that many don't get to see, a moving, uplifting experience of tradition. You may not know all the tunes, but as soon as the music starts and those horns hit you, your body will tell you what to do. Just let the spirit move you.
The Madison Clouds of Heaven trombone shout band plays Sunday, June 11 from 3-4 p.m. at Daniels Auditorium, N.C. Museum of History, in downtown Raleigh as part of PineCone's Music of the Carolinas Series. The concert is free.