Baylor University Professor Robert Darden is on a mission.
Nearly 10 years into an endeavor that he said will hopefully long outlast him, he and the engineers who run the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project are determined to get a copy of every black gospel song released during "Golden Age of Gospel," between 1940 and 1970.
“African-American sacred music is the foundation of American popular music, without exception,” Darden said.
With that mindset, Darden began the complex challenge at Baylor with two objectives.
“One was to save the music in any way possible and the other was to make it more widely accessible,” he explained.
Darden said the recordings are, in some cases, the only window into a quickly closing period of American cultural history.
But as significant as the music restoration itself is, there's another aspect of the project that's being generated: history.
That history can often be found on the side of a record seldom played.
"On the B-side -- the side that only fans and African Americans would listen to -- (were) a whole series of very explicit Civil Rights messages," Darden said.
Those messages, he said, helped spur the Civil Rights movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s -- another reason why the project's future is so vital.
The university quickly embraced the project, he said. Darden and the university’s Mood Library formed a partnership.
“I think it will be a great thing for Baylor and I think the association with the Smithsonian is just going to allow us to engage scholars,” said Dr. Pattie Orr, Baylor’s dean of libraries.
Using a team of highly trained technical staff and specialized, state-of-the-art equipment, old vinyl discs are being cleaned, restored, categorized and digitized.
"The ultimate goal of the project is to preserve and store a digital copy of the audio long term, and to provide standards-based discovery tools through an online interface into a full catalog of materials, along with samples of all tracks from the audio archive," the university states on the project's website.
When completed, the BGRMP will be a part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture when it opens in 2015 in Washington D.C.
Darden is still in search of more vinyl recordings.