Holy Roller

Arizona Juanita Dranes died in obscurity, but she is remembered now

But Dranes, the denomination's first musical star, is now almost completely forgotten except by the few still living who saw her perform. There is no mention of her in the official COGIC history. Having to rely on faded memories, incomplete county records (especially concerning African-Americans) and artifacts that were long ago unloaded at garage sales, musical archaeologists are left with the bones from a magnificent feast of soul and innovation. But the biographical blanks only make Dranes' music less cluttered with trivial concerns.

She remains more spirit than human, and when she sings, "He is my story, he is my song," that's all you need to know about the singer. Like the best gospel performers, she was an otherworldly vessel fueled by faith; a pet of the force that distributes talent discriminately. They can't be contained, the voices that are unified, sanctified and possessed by a fiery spirit, and so they burst out--reaching, reaching, reaching for heaven's gate.

Arizona Juanita Dranes, right, in the only photograph of her
Arizona Juanita Dranes, right, in the only photograph of her

Raising Arizona
The roots of a sanctified style

English preacher Isaac Watts publishes "Hymns and Spiritual Songs," which was initially met with resistance because the hymns were not merely literal re-creations of David's Psalms, as was the norm, but infused with personal feelings. Many of these "Dr. Watts" songs would end up in the repertoires of such golden-age gospel giants as the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Mahalia Jackson and Dorothy Love Coates.


The Great Awakening, the first major evangelical movement in the United States, merges African belief systems, such as magical rituals, with Anglo-Protestant traditions to convert hundreds of thousands, including slaves, to Christianity. The forceful and zealous preaching inspires livelier music than the trudgingly slow traditional hymns.

1780s to 1930s

The Great Revival Movement with its integrated (but separated) "camp meetings" in rural regions of the country popularizes repetitive choruses and call-and-response techniques. During this Second Great Awakening, whites support the conversion of blacks to Christianity, feeling it will produce more docile and obedient slaves. Religion becomes the only institutional area in which blacks are allowed a measure of freedom of expression.


Arizona Dranes is born to Cora Jones and a father listed as only "Unknown Dranes."


The "hard gospel" style is solidified at the integrated Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, where churchgoers are urged to lose control, even speaking in tongues, when the Holy Ghost is received. Led by black preacher William J. Seymour, the fervent foot-stomping, sanctified hand-clappin', piano-thumpin', hallelujah-wailin' event ushers in the Pentecostal movement.


Azusa Street participant Charles Mason forms the Church of God in Christ in Memphis.


After auditioning for a talent scout for Okeh Records, Arizona Dranes travels from Dallas to Chicago, where she records six original compositions for $25 per number. It is the first time a piano-playing female gospel singer is recorded.

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