Ernest Phipps and Alfred G. Karnes

Also Known As: Ernest Phipps, Alfred G. Karnes

Updated: March 01, 2011

Gospel singers.

Ernest Phipps and Alfred G. Karnes were both preachers from the Corbin, Kentucky, area. Their recordings from the famed Bristol, Tennessee, recording sessions of 1927 and 1928 were among the earliest recorded examples of Anglo-American gospel music.

Phipps (b. May 4, 1900) and members of his Free Holiness Pentecostal Church congregation recorded six songs at each of the two Bristol sessions. At the 1927 sessions, Phipps’s group, labeled the Holiness Quartet, featured two singers and a standard string band. At the 1928 sessions, Phipps fronted a larger group, known as Ernest Phipps and his Holiness Singers, consisting of four singers with piano, fiddle, banjo, guitar, and mandolin accompaniment. The resulting twelve commercial recordings, with their evangelical lyrics, repetitions, strong rhythms, improvised harmonies, hand clapping, and guitar backup, provide a rare record of the fervent, intense Holiness style of gospel singing heard in many Appalachian churches in the early twentieth century.

Phipps’s recordings, including “Do, Lord, Remember Me,” “Old Ship of Zion,” and “Don’t Grieve after Me,” were among the first 78s issued from the Bristol sessions. Phipps’s “If the Light Is Gone Out of Your Soul,” backed with “Bright Tomorrow,” sold almost twelve thousand copies and stayed in print into the 1930s. He died April 17, 1963. Karnes, born February 2, 1891, in Bedford, Virginia, served as a Baptist preacher at several rural churches near Corbin. Although he often performed in churches with his children, for the Bristol sessions he sang solo, accompanying himself on a Gibson harp guitar. Karnes may also have played that instrument on some of Phipps’s recordings.

Of the thirteen sides Karnes recorded at the Bristol sessions—six in 1927 and seven in 1928—only four were released during his lifetime. His Bristol recordings included “To the Work,” “I Am Bound for the Promised Land,” “When They Ring the Golden Bells,” and an original song about missionary work, “Called to the Foreign Field.” Karnes never re- corded again, but he continued to perform music and preach until his death on May 18, 1958.

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