To the left you see a photo of Charles King, who is largely unknown today, but who inspired a generation of Unity youth and who so inspired the 7,000 attendees of the 1970 Unity Convention that he was asked to come back in 1973 and 1976. I believe that Unity ordained him in 1982. If you are able to confirm this, please contact me. Here is how I came to learn of his story and how a 90 minute amateur recording has made its way here on the Internet after 40 years.
Two weeks ago I sat watching four people prepare the music for this Sunday’s Martin Luther King Celebration at Unity Center of Christianity Baltimore. Mr. Ernest Mitchell, Dr. Phill Butts, Dr. Carleen Leggett and our pianist, Kenny, had selected songs and they were working out the music. Ernest and Carleen have sung at the church since the early 1980s. Carleen is a French professor at Morgan State. Kenny is a grad student at the prestigious Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins, which is located a few hundred yards from the church. The photo you see here is from a few years back, but it gives a sense of the collaborative creativity one finds in this lovely church. You see Whit Williams in the photo. Whit is a saxophonist and, like Dr. Phill, he is a major figure in the Baltimore jazz scene. Whit is there most Sundays with his saxophone. When I showed up at the church a year ago in my suit and tie, Whit told me that if I kept dressing that way I'd get a misdemeanor. By the way, they are looking for a new minister. Click here to learn more.
The music they had selected came from the African American Heritage Hymnal. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that “The African American Heritage Hymnal is probably the most important addition to Protestant hymnody within the past century.” I got inspired listening to these four people working out of this special hymnal in preparation for the MLK celebration. The center only had five copies and no music for the pianist. So I want all of you who have donated to TruthUnity to know that I took some of your donations and bought 25 copies for the center, along with pianist music and three CDs of selected hymns. They will be delivered this morning in gratitude for the center’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. For the church, I thank all of you.
I got listening to the CDs and the music reminded me of Rev Joanna Thompson Gabriel, who sings Gospel as well as anyone I know in Unity. I emailed her, asking if she knew of the hymnal. She wrote me back, saying,
Yes, I used to have one. I lost a lot of books and that was one of them. The African Methodist Episcopal church uses it. At least they did some years ago. I still love that music. You may not have been around when Charles King, a member of the Wings Over Jordan singers, was a part of Unity and he would go around and sing many of these hymns at Unity churches and conferences. He changed some of the words to some of the songs. He was well known to having us sing these “joy songs.” Joy songs are not as popular in Unity anymore, I don't think. Did you ever sing that song, God's Love Is Deep Within Me? That was one he used to have us singing. He was wonderful and was very well received by Unity folks. I used to have a dream about following in his footsteps. So whenever I speak I generally burst out in song like he did, and like Della and Maya did. He was marvelous. I don't know if you have seen any archival data on him but back in the 80's he was very popular. He was from some part of the state of Washington, I think. Anyway, anywhoo, thanks for bringing that book back to my memory. Love you, Joanna
So Joanna's email reminded me that Max Lafser had also spoken about Charles King when I interviewed him a few years ago. Max grew up in YOU in Washington state and he remembered how Charles King influenced him as a child. In my interview with Max he said, “Charles King had been a singer and during the 30s, 40s and 50s and he was hotter than hell and full of it and he came to all the kids stuff as well as adults. He’d come to your church and he’d sing until you cried and he had an absolutely incredible voice and his act was just so full of it, just beautiful. And he especially liked the YOUers, so he would come to all the YOU things and be there for us all.”
Well, last week I was off to the Unity Archives for a week of rummaging inspirational stuff for TruthUnity. So I had a chance to look for archival data on Charles King, as Joanna has recommended. Well, we are blessed! I found a photo, some newspaper articles and a priceless audio cassette of him working with a group of people. And, as I said above, I also found evidence that he was ordained a Unity minister in 1982. If you are able to confirm this, please contact me.
The staff of Unity Archives quickly found some publicity files for Charles King as well. This gave us a great photograph of Charles King and some newspaper articles. The best of those publicity files is shown below. But the priceless find was the audio cassette.
Some unknown angel recorded this “Evening of Inspiration” with Charles King long ago. Click through and scroll to the bottom to listen. The sound quality is poor and some of the recording had gaps where a previous copy had stuck in whatever was used to copy the audio. Regardless, this 90 minute audio recording gives a feel for what it was like to be with Charles King for an evening. Thank you, Joanna Gabriel and Max Lafser, for sharing with us your recollections of Charles King. You inspired me to go looking in the Archives for Charles King recordings. And Thank you, God, for preserving this priceless audio file.
Sometimes Unity teachings are best conveyed not through words but rather through the soul of a spirit-filled person. All I can say is that the amateur recording someone made years ago of An Evening of Inspiration with Charles King is a priceless find that will bless many people for years to come. I hope that you will allow the spirit of Charles King to inspire you as he inspired thousands of others in Unity many years ago.
Sunday, January 20, 2019