Brady Blade, Sr. may be proud of his musical sons: drummer Brady Blade, Jr., who has toured with Emmylou Harris, and drummer Brian Blade, who plays with Wayne Shorter among others. But the 77 year-old’s own thunderbolt voice delivers the gospel in song like no other, which he has been doing for 55 years as pastor of the Zion Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. This summer, he revives his legendary local TV show, The Hallelujah Train, at Lincoln Center Out of Doors.
Lara Pellegrinelli: This will be the Hallelujah Train’s first time in New York City, but how long has this musical engine been making tracks?
Pastor Brady Blade, Sr.: Since the 1960s. I did it on a local TV station for over ten years. I did very little singing back then. I introduced local groups and a few out-of-town singers appeared: The Ambassadors, The Smith Brothers, Al Green. Green’s drummer took sick and he used Brady, who was a teenager then. I never shall forget one of the songs, “The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow.” Al Green was born and reared in the setting of gospel music. That was his real forte.
LP: How did the Hallelujah Train come to be revived?
BB: In 2006, Brian went to the station where I did the show and asked for some of the recordings. He was told that all of the tapes had been erased, which upset him. I think he wanted to preserve that old music, the songs he grew up hearing me sing at Zion Baptist. He and Brady called in [producers and guitarists] Daniel Lanois and Buddy Miller, and guitarist Greg Leisz. I didn’t know them at the time. We made our debut at Duke University’s Hayti Heritage Center in 2009.
LP: How does the music relate to your ministry?
BB: Music enhances worship. You can have worship without the music, but music makes the worship so much more spiritually interesting. I grew up in Shreveport. At that time, Zion was one block from Trinity Baptist where I was baptized at age eight and preached my first sermon when I was a freshman in 1953. I went to Wayland Baptist College to study theology. I really wanted to go to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for further study, but four or five churches wanted to call me as pastor. Some of the ministers were concerned about my coming in so young, not married, with no experience, no nothing. There was an effort to get me to stop singing, probably because I was doing well. They’d say, “God didn’t call us to sing; he called us to preach.” And I’d say, “God gave me this talent. Why shouldn’t I use it?”
LP: Are there particular challenges for ministry today?
BB: A main one, believe it or not, is music. It’s a challenge, baby. There are churches now that don’t allow the hymns, those entities in music that point to the deity. People hide in these megachurches and nothing is required of them. They don’t have to sing or pray. They hire people to do it for them. Their only concept of being “blessed” is to have a new car, a new house, new clothes and I just can’t engage in that kind of gospel. It’s not about naming it and claiming it, blabbing it and grabbing it. One of the songs I sing is “Give Me Jesus”: “You can have all this world, just give me Jesus.” Someone tried to sing that on one of the televangelist shows and the guru said, “Don’t sing that. You’ll cut off your blessing.” Maybe I’m cutting off my blessing, but I’m singing it. And the people who come here always loved that song.
LP: In New York City, you’ll find people of all faiths and of no faith. Does this music have an entry point for everyone?
BB: In spite of what you believe or don’t believe, I believe Christ is the answer and that he came to save us from ourselves and from our sins. I sing songs like “Amazing Grace,” “I’m Going Home on the Morning Train,” and “Louisiana Poor Boy”: “I’m from a poor family but the Lord has been good to me.” The people at Duke ate that up. They grabbed a hold of that shine on me and wore me out. I will probably open with, “Lord Keep Me Day By Day.” I truly believe one of the greatest blessings we receive is that we are kept by God. I don’t need a lot of fanfare, a whole lot of extracurricular stuff, Lord. Just keep me.