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'Gospel was transforming the world of the music:' Well-known Baylor professor preserves largest gospel collection in the world

Robert Darden’s black gospel music restoration project has flourished since 2005 to become one of the largest of its kind.

WACO, Texas — A well-known Baylor journalism professor is considered the go-to-guy for restoring and saving black gospel music from the golden era. His project has now gone beyond just music.

Robert Darden’s black gospel music restoration project has flourished since 2005 to become one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Darden said his love for gospel started as a child, which led him to become a gospel music editor for Billboard Magazine and an author of many books on the genre.

In the basement of the Moody Memorial Library at Baylor sits one of the largest collections of gospel music with songs that address the faith, struggles, hopes, and hardships of black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.

"(What) I discovered along the way was about 75 percent of all gospel music, from the golden age of gospel to time between 1945-1975, that gospel was transforming the world of the music of the civil rights. The music that transformed rock and roll was unavailable,” Darden said.

Darden is the founder of The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. He and a team of engineers have digitized and preserved 14,000 vinyl records.

"Usually, a lot of the material we receive is in really rough shape,” said Digitization Engineer Travis Taylor. “It has been in a garage or a damp basement for some time, but that’s okay because we can handle that here.”

Darden's work is now a part of history. He provided the gospel music for the National African American History and Culture Museum which opened in Washington D.C. in 2016.

"They asked us to provide the gospel music for the new museum. The music in there, the covers, there is a fake record store where you can go through the LP's. We provided all of that," Darden said.

Darden is working with the museum to preserve and provide sermons of African American preachers.

"As long as the Lord wants us to continue, this will continue,” Darden said. “I feel comfortable that Baylor will honor that as well."

Darden will be featured on a PBS special in 2020 about the black church. If you have any music you want to donate, or you want to listen to music from the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, click here.

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