GOSPEL AROUND THE GLOBE
The whole history of African-American
music is a long way, from home roots to universal art, from
anonymity to worldwide recognition. This is the emblematic destiny
of Liz Mc Comb : born in Cleveland, Ohio, from a modest, Deep
South rooted family, she became the most celebrated gospel singer
overseas... Thanks to her, gospel is now welcomed everywhere,
even in the very temples of classical music like Theatre du
Châtelet in Paris where she just performed and sold out on October
26th and 28th.
She owes this wonderful success to her exceptional musical gifts
(both as singer and pianist), her magic relationship with any
audience and her faithfulness to the most authentic heritage
of her ancestors.
Her childhood was mainly dedicated to music and religion. Her
mother - now in her 80's - is still pastor of the Pentecostal
church where Liz began to pray and sing among her sisters.
About 20 years ago, Liz Mc Comb flew to Europe, taking part
in the famous "Roots of Rock&Roll Tour". Far from
disoriented, she fell in love with this "old continent",
so new for her but always a promise land for gospel, jazz and
So she decided to settle in Paris. There the first "jubilee
singers" were already welcomed in the 1870's, and her "grand
sisters" - Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, Marion Williams
- were greeted like queens. France was a real homeland for the
greatest African American musicians like Sidney Bechet, Fats
Waller, Louis Armstrong, Bill Coleman, Bud Powell, the Golden
Gate Quartet, Big Bill Bronzy, Lester Young, Johnny Griffin,
Memphis Slim, John Lewis and Screamin'Jay Hawkins …
The ascension of Liz Mc Comb in Paris was slow, careful but
irresistible. Soon after her arrival, she was the guest star
who opened local shows for James Brown and Ray Charles. At the
same time, she took part in the beautiful and short-lived gospel
quartet "Psalms", she then began to perform and record
on her own.
PASSION & SHYNESS
Her first album "Acoustic Woman" (1992) establishes
her singular style, both archaic and progressive, alternating
ancient but totally renewed spirituals and original songs sounding
better than most of the "soul" hits at the time.
The following "Rock my Soul" and "Live",
still mostly a traditional gospel repertoire, confirm her ability
to deal with frantic tempo and subtle chords while setting a
mystical relationship with "The Everyone".
That's the point, and it's the key to "Time Is Now",
the fourth album that got the prestigious "Mahalia Jackson
Prize 1996". Now's the time when Liz Mc Comb reveals herself
as a composer : pearls like "Song of Freedom", "What
Happened to the Love?", "Give Him Up" and of
course "Time is Now" rival the masterworks of gospel
song. Their secret is that they were not only "written"
but improvised, at first, in front of (and together with) the
friendly audience of Liz Mc Comb.
Because the truth is Liz has a miraculous gift for dealing ideas
and feelings with people, however different they may be. It's
the main reason why she lives and sings, and you can feel it
from her first note when she lands on stage, rushing to her
piano, and striking furious chords while introducing her fellow
musicians with a soft and tender voice…
This is Liz Mc Comb : a strange cocktail of rage and sweetness,
of passion and shyness, which makes whatever she sings something
of her own life.
Secret life : giant posters show her face along the streets
of Paris, but nobody knows how or where she lives. Nothing to
do with "stardom" : on the contrary, she's an humble
person who refuses absolutely any kind of self-centredness.
She flees from the cameras, for her an interview is a martyrdom!
However, she's a real star now, in Europe and abroad. In France,
all of her shows are sold out in the most prestigious places,
and everyone is a special event :
At the Casino de Paris (where Josephine Baker led the "Revue
Nègre")… At the Olympia (where Edith Piaf, Aretha, Jimi
Hendrix and so many others performed), she gave two free New
Year's day concerts for the homeless. Either at the old Théâtre
des Champs-Elysées (where "The Rite of Spring" was
created) or in the brand new Opéra de Lyon - where she sang
along with dancer Bill T. Jones - Liz succeeded in bringing
together all human beings, regardless of their class, their
color, their language, nationality or religion.
Her Parisian home is not nothing more than a base for her, a
kind of aircraft carrier for an artist who is constantly in
flight. She opened the Bimillenium in Palestine, where she was
the "ambassador" of the USA for the celebration of
Christmas 2000 in Bethlehem ; and at the end of the same year,
she has been chosen to be the first gospel star in China to
perform in Peking and Shanghai.
Meantime she discovered Africa, the motherland, touring in Senegal
and Ivory Coast. This was a big shock for her to realize the
terrible situation of these countries, yet the least poor of
It was a big contrast with the " World Economic Forum of
Davos", in Switzerland, where she sang the same songs,
with the same sincerity, in front of the "Forces of Money".
THE SONG AS A RELIGION
One can hear in the voice of Liz Mc Comb the kind of heartbreak
which is pure passion, much more than compassion about her Neighbor.
She couldn't sing only for the pleasure of singing, yet she
enjoys music at its highest level.
Many people can giggle by listening to the traditional evangelist
song : "Don't Let the Devil Ride". "Devil"
means nothing for them anymore, but for Liz, it symbolizes everything
she rejects, like "The Man Upstairs" expresses her
faith in Jesus, the only God who accepted to suffer like a man.
"Fire", sustained by the beautiful organ grooves of
the Reverend Harold T. Johnson, is a funky hymn which could
have seduced Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye.
"Whenever You Pray" is probably the best "résumé"
of Liz Mc Comb's life. She prays and sings everywhere around
the globe, and discovered in concrete terms what's the basis
of all religions according to their greatest historian Mircea
Eliade who names it "theophany" : God is at first
the topical and topographic center of any place where people
For Liz Mc Comb, "Jesus is a Rock". But her faith
is solid like a rock, and her passion is an active volcano.
All the daily problems that most people deal with are centered
around material aims, she brings them into the spirituality
of her life and songs.
Musically, she's a wonderful improviser, and her voice often
seems like the sound of a great saxophone player. But it's not
what she seeks.
Her musical enjoyment, that brought to her so many people from
many countries, is not so important. And the word "art"
is secondary for her.
"Love" is her main concern. "Passion" is
her sole source of energy, and to understand that, listen to
this final song, the outstanding "Chant de Liberté",
where she moves from a very simple song to a kind of trance,
speaking "in tongues"... She has even been called
"The Extremist of Love" !
This album is only a sample of the art and life of Liz Mc Comb
: somebody who expresses her faith far from home, bringing the
Gospel around the Globe.