The Harlem Gospel Travelers Release
New Single “Hold Your Head Up”
New Album Look Up! out September 16th via Colemine Records
July 27, 2022: The Harlem Gospel Travelers released “Hold Your Head Up,” the second single from their upcoming album Look Up! (out September 16th via Colemine Records). Produced by acclaimed soul singer-songwriter Eli Paperboy Reed, Look Up! marks the group’s first full-length release as a trio, as well as their first collection of totally original material. The music draws deeply on the gospel quartet tradition of the ’50s and ’60s, but there’s a distinctly modern edge to the record, an unmistakable reflection of the tumultuous past few years of pandemic anxiety, political chaos, and social unrest. Clash Magazine writes of “Hold Your Head Up” that “the group honour the deep roots that gospel has within American music, tapping back into the source in order to find full expression.”
Born out of an non-profit music education program led by Reed, The Harlem Gospel Travelers—singers Thomas Gatling, George Marage, and Dennis Bailey—released their debut LP, He’s On Time, to rave reviews in 2019, with PopMatters hailing the album’s “musical transcendence” and AllMusic praising it as “dreamlike and joyous.” The record charted on Billboard, earned the Travelers high profile fans like Elton John (who invited them to appear on his Rocket Hour radio show on Apple Music), and landed them festival slots everywhere from Pilgrimage to Telluride Jazz.
It’d be easy to classify Look Up! as “retro” or “vintage,” but the truth is that the young men of The Harlem Gospel Travelers aren’t just reviving sounds from the past, they’re revitalizing them for the present and reminding us just how relevant this music is (and always has been) in times of hardship and uncertainty. “Gospel’s at the root of everything,” says Gatling. “Country, folk, rock, soul, blues; we love it all, and it’s all in there.”
Gatling and his fellow Travelers were all familiar with gospel music to one degree or another growing up, but it wasn’t until their introduction to Reed that they began to learn about the rich history of the gospel quartet and timeless groups like The Soul Stirrers, The Dixie Hummingbirds, and The Swan Silvertones. In high school Gatling and Marage were participants in a non-profit music education program known as Gospel For Teens, which invited kids from all over New York to come to Harlem and sing after school.
“I was invited to visit the program and I thought it was great,” says Reed, “but it was all choir music. I asked if they’d ever consider doing a quartet program for young men, and they told me they’d love to but they didn’t have a teacher.” So Reed became the teacher, working with five or six teenagers at a time for semester-long programs focused on widening the students’ perspective of what gospel music could be and tapping into the true power of their voices. Participants came and went over the years, but some stuck around and began to suggest the kind of talent and ambition that reached beyond a simple after school program.
“I started working with Thomas when he was 13 or 14,” recalls Reed, “and he was the driving force behind this turning into more than just a class. He was bringing in song ideas of his own, and as he and George and some of the guys in the group began to age out of the program, I realized we needed to get them into the studio.” Thus, The Harlem Gospel Travelers were born, with Bailey (a college friend of Gatling’s) joining the group after the release of He’s On Time.
The Harlem Gospel Travelers’ full-length Look Up! is out September 16th via Colemine Records.
Photo Credit: Rosie Cohe
Missing Piece Group