Sharp As Ever
by Max Blau
On Oct. 2, 1941—11 days before Paul Simon was born—a Baptist preacher from Atlanta named Reverend J.M. Gates recorded his final sermon. He concluded his prolific 15-year career, which included more than 200 recordings, with the fiery oration “Gettin’ Ready For Christmas Day.” The repetitive, uplifting sermon stands one of the more powerful examples of spoken word and gospel in the first part of the 20th century.
A sample of that preaching appears in the first track of Simon’s most recent album, So Beautiful or So What. A 70-year-old sermon might not be the most intuitive pairing with an upbeat blues-pop song,...