Art Works Blog

Art Works Podcast: the Paschall Brothers

In this week's podcast , we visit with two members of the Paschall Brothers, who are 2012 NEA National Heritage Fellows. For 31 years, the Paschall Brothers have been singing the a cappella gospel music of Tidewater Virginia. The group's four-part harmony owes much to its founder, Patriarch Reverend Frank Paschall Sr. Born in 1923, Reverend Frank had been a seasoned performer with quartets when he first moved to Tidewater at the age of 19. Local quartets were thriving in the area during the 1940s. Since their repertoire drew almost exclusively from spirituals, as well as from more contemporary gospel hymns, it's not surprising that this type of singing would most frequently find a home in the church. But because it was voice-only without any musical accompaniment, it was also easily transferable to house parties and street corners. It added to and drew from the rich African-American culture in the area. Reverend Paschall was quite well-known in the region, and sang with several of the quartets, including the Keys of Harmony.

But he was also teaching his sons four-part harmony, and in 1981, the family formed the quartet the Paschall Brothers. The group is known for taking traditional gospel songs and adding their own distinctive arrangements to them, as well as for writing their own gospel tunes.

Although the group almost disbanded when Reverend Paschall passed away in 1999, the remaining members paused, reconstituted themselves, and continued to sing, preserving and expanding the tradition of four-part a cappella gospel. Reverend Tarrence Paschall now leads the quartet, which today includes the third generation of Paschalls as well as the great Tidewater singer from outside the family, Johnny Lewis.

Excerpts from "You Better Pray" from Songs For Our Father by the Paschall Brothers, used courtesy of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Tonight, October 4 at 7:30 p.m., the Paschall Brothers and the other 2012 NEA National Heritage Fellows will take center stage at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC for an evening of song, dance, music, and lively discussion about traditional art. If you can't make the NEA National Heritage Concert, remember---we're webcasting it live! Click here for more information about this free concert and the live webcast.

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