The Musical Legacy of Paul Arnold

Feb 13, 2015

Paul Arnold would have been 83 years old this month. He grew up in Dayton's Edgemont District and sang gospel at the neighborhood Baptist church. In the 1950s, Arnold became a founding member and lead singer of the Gospelaires, and by the 60s, the group had achieved acclaim for its international performances.  Arnold died in 2006. His achievements were memorialized last fall in Dayton's Walk of Fame – which lies along the public sidewalk on West Third Street in the Wright Dunbar Business District.  Community Voices producer Pam Ferris-Olson met Arnold's eldest daughter Khaijah Ali on the Walk of Fame to talk about her father.


Khadijah Ali says that as a child, she knew little about her father because he was on the road much of the time singing.  In later years, when Arnold was in ailing health, he had more time to spend with his daughter.  That's when Ali learned of her father's fame.


"My father was a pioneer in the Gospel industry," she says.  "He traveled the Chitlin Circuit.  He dealt with a lot of civil rights issues.  In our home, it wasn't just Gospel music; it was jazz; it was rock and roll.  It was James Brown and Jackie Wilson and Same Cooke.  You know, a lot of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald.  There was Duke Ellington.  I mean, we just had all kinds of music goin' on."


"Paul Arnold's main contribution to Gospel music, in my opinion, is that he took his hard singing style to Europe, so that people in Europe and elsewhere discovered that Gospel music wasn't just Mahalia Jackson or the jubilee quartets, but also this very passionate, no holds barred singing style right out of the Pentecostal or Holiness church," says Bob Marovich, founder of the online Journal of Gospel Music and producer of WLUW's Gospel Memories Radio Show in Chicago.


Khadijah Ali says that she learned that when her father was a boy, he delivered newspapers.  Often, he was requested to deliver a song along with the daily paper.  Ali believes that this kind of support encouraged Arnold to sing, particularly songs filled with messages of hope.


"Because of the hard times that we were going through, you know with poverty and the civil rights movement and everything, I think that ["Rest for the Weary"] was like a theme - there will be rest for the weary," she says.  "He let you know, you might have burdens, but you know, there's a way out.  You know a lot of people don't feel there's a way out when they get stuck in poverty or not living the life they want to live, and my father always had a message of hope."


Commercial recordings of Paul Arnold and the Gospelaires are difficult to find; however there are some videos available on YouTube.