March 17, 2004 News & Features » Cover Story


Just Add Jesus 

Barky’s Spiritual Store

“Most people in this area probably got their first gospel album fromÿBarky’s,” says WREJ DJ Jamila Joy, host of the “Morning Joy Drive” show.ÿ“That store is a special place; it holds a lot of history.”ÿ

“I started in 1956, right in the midst of rock ’n’ roll,” Barksdale W.ÿHaggins Sr. — Mr. Barky to his customers — says between sales at the register.ÿThe Armstrong High and Virginia State graduate credits his father, a radio-repair-shop owner, with the inspiration to open his own business whenÿhe got out of the Army in the mid-’50s.

At first, Barky’s Record Shop wasÿcaught up in the heady explosion of rock ’n’ roll and R&B. But the proprietor says he began to phase out secular sounds “because more and more people were askingÿabout the gospel music, and more younger people were getting into it.”

Eventually, in the ’70s, the store dropped popular music altogether. “Theÿmain reason was because of the lyrics,” Haggins says. “It had changed so badly.ÿI’d say around that time of rap music, we couldn’t handle it. We couldn’tÿsell gospel next to it, so we decided to let it go.”ÿ

Today, Barky’s caters to fans of a wide range of contemporary artists fromÿBeverly Crawford to Kirk Franklin to Christian comedian Sister Cantaloupe. What wereÿthe popular religious performers in the old days? Mr. Barky remembers: “TheÿDixie Hummingbirds, the Nightingales, Clara Ward, the Caravans — whichÿShirley Caesar came out of — Mahalia Jackson. Roberta Martin was also veryÿpopular.”

He adds the name of the most famous gospel act to emerge from Richmond: The Harmonizing Four. “You don’t hear of localÿgroups making great strides like they did —no, no, no,” he says. He maintainsÿthat if Richmond had done nothing but spawn the Four, who formed in 1927 atÿDunbar High School and enjoyed an amazing 50-year career, its place inÿgospel music history would be assured.

“The Harmonizing Four were a hugeÿinfluence on groups — regionally as well as nationally, because they wereÿtraveling all over the United States.” The Four would include one of theÿgreat bass singers in gospel, Jimmy Jones, as well as founding member LonnieÿSmith — father of renowned jazz pianist Lonnie Liston Smith.ÿ

Naturally, the Four play on at Barky’s. The owner’s personal preferenceÿremains quartet singing, and he says his customers still enjoy it too.ÿ“Richmond is a quartet town. Quartets are popular all along the EasternÿSeaboard. From North Carolina ... no, I’d say from Florida on up to New York.ÿIn the West Coast, they care more for choirs, like Walter Hawkins and EdwinÿHawkins.”

With his love for traditional songs and his aversion to rap, what does Mr. Barkyÿthink of today’s crossover gospel music, which often uses hip-hop beatsÿand pop arrangements in praising the Lord?ÿ

“I’m amazed at that, really,” he says, laughing. “I never would have thought that itÿwould have occurred. But now we get teenagers coming into the store andÿbuying the music because they are having praise dancing in their church. Youÿsee, you can get young people into the church because of the dancing.”ÿ

He chuckles. “When I was coming along, they didn’t have no drums in theÿchurch, there was no dancing.”ÿ — Don Harrison

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