(Dr. Geneva Moore is Professor of English Literature, University of Wisconsin, Madison and a dear friend of mine. Here is her tribute to my mother, Irene Day-Comer, and her music. At the left you can click through to hear my mother's recording, Touch Somebody's Life.)
Irene Day: Touch Somebody’s Life (20th Anniversary Edition)
Sunday morning. Every mature African American who attended a Baptist church remembers the sweet, significant meaning of these descriptive words: Sunday morning. On the first day of the week in East Chicago, Indiana, the Antioch Baptist Church provided its members and visitors with a deeper understanding of their identity beyond the limited secular identity imposed upon them by the world.
The spirited goal of Sunday morning was accomplished primarily through the ministry of sermons and music, especially the music of Negro spirituals, invested as they are in a spiritual legacy borne out of the poignant depths of the ancestors’ creative suffering.
From Maya Angelou to Toni Morrison, a select number of African American writers have paid tribute to soloists who performed, in their melodious voices, the necessary Sunday morning ritual of transporting African Americans into a sacred sphere. In this blessed space that literally and figuratively transformed their lives beyond the racial challenges and the tedium of daily life, African American worshippers experienced a weekly rebirth.
At Antioch and at Zion Progressive Baptist Church the mission of restoring congregants to their rightful, dignified place in God’s creation was frequently given to Irene Day (later Irene Day-Comer). The experience of listening to her became a spiritual rite of passage for those of us who were growing up and privileged to hear her sing or give a concert performance. Whether at Sunday morning or evening services, or upon countless special events such as weddings, funerals, or any occasion celebrating the human experience, Irene Day-Comer’s rapturous voice infused spiritual uplift across several generations.
Irene Day-Comer has the unique ability to make her listeners feel that there are only three people in the sacred space of worship – the soloist, the listener, and God. In later years, her stirring renditions of sacred standards have drawn national acclaim. She not only accepts the musical responsibility of transforming lives within the local community, but she also embraces a broader commitment of witnessing to America through song. As a soloist with the Blakely Singers’ National Gospel Tour, in concerts, at political and union rallies, religious conventions, and even national sporting events, and now with her re-mastered 20th-Anniversary release of this CD, Mrs. Day-Comer continues her life’s mission of communicating God’s message through song.
The accolades for Mrs. Day-Comer’s talents span her 70 years as a soloist. Mrs. Day-Comer appeared on programs with the late, great Mahalia Jackson and the famed Barrett Sisters. She received the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s highest honor for contributions to humanity through the arts, and was selected to represent the International United Steelworkers as its ambassador of song, performing the National Anthem at the Las Vegas Hilton in the early 90’s.
As a young woman, Mrs. Day-Comer was offered opportunities to pursue other styles of music but politely declined, preferring sacred music. In recognition of her life-long contributions she has received other awards and acknowledgements, including the Black Expo Award and special recognition from the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus.
The original tape master of this recording, formerly entitled “He’s Everywhere,” was nearly destroyed as a result of 20 years of metallic erosion. Fortunately, the recording was restored through digital technology so that the music of Irene Day-Comer can now be archived in our audio libraries for future generations to enjoy. She can now touch and inspire the world with her great renditions of songs like “Precious Lord,” “Touch Somebody’s Life,” “God So Loved The World,” and “He’s Everywhere.”
Gifted with a rich, lyric soprano voice, a fully two-octave range, and perfect pitch, Irene Day-Comer’s delicate, sweet singing resonates with a personal faith tested by the vagaries of human experience. She conveys the universal message of God’s love as being everywhere and for everyone who seeks, drawing each listener into his or her own personal journey. She persuades us to experience the reality of God’s love as she sings freely and clearly in a combined language of heart, soul, mind, and spirit.
Anchored by the able accompaniment of pianist Marilyn Hairston, this re-mastered recording also features several renowned New York City-based musicians; J.D. Parren on winds, Bob Cunningham on contrabass, and Dr. Gregory Hopkins, tenor-pianist extraordinare. Fresh arrangements are produced and orchestrated by Mrs. Day-Comer’s son, Dennis Day, who also contributes background vocals and was inspired to re-release this recording after the events of September 11, 2001.
Perhaps the legendary Leslie Uggams best sums it up. After listening to this recording, she stated, “In the kind of world that we inhabit today, after September 11, we all need Irene Day-Comer’s music. She takes us back to church, and the songs are performed beautifully.”
Now future generations can enjoy Irene Day-Comer’s unique talent, just as so many have earlier been taken to places of a blessed charity, come Sunday morning, gently reminding us that we, too, can touch somebody’s life.