Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Treat: Reverend Alberta Baker, THE HANDLESS ORGANIST

The jewel in most any nerd's "bizarre album cover" collection, Rev. Alberta Baker's "The Handless Organist" requires deep pockets to acquire.

The album cover is vivid (right up there with Merrill Womach), but if someone's born with a deformity or suffers a horrible accident, it's not so surprising that they'd make it a point of pride, rather than something to hide.

They cope by becoming "motivational" performers, believing that God "chose" them for a special mission in life.

This seems to include being the subject of "hipster" jokes on various record-collector blogs…you know, the whole gabba-gabba-hey mentality: "Man, doncha know, I gots me a good 'un here, cats and kitties. Look at THIS awesome cover! Cost me $80 I could've spent on a new pork pie hat, yo! Tell me, would ya rather have no hands, or no organ? Gotcha. Me too! Dig, this chick ain't gonna give ME a handjob…Peace out, brothers!" That kind of shit.

Why religious albums of this type are so amusing to "incredibly strange" record collectors, is just more proof that God works in mysterious hard working record sellers some money siphoned from Mr. Outlaw Music Fan With No Job via his mum's purse.

So…the album cover is real kewl, but what about the music?

If you're wondering if the album is worth buying for the MUSIC and not just the cover...listen to the samples below. You've got 3 songs sung by Baker herself (she wrote two of them) and an instrumental. She's a limited but competent amateur vocalist. As to the organ, well, it seems to me that most songs in the Christian hymnal are pretty basic; they were written mindful that not every small church has somebody who can read music well or has educated fingers. Some of our greatest religious tunes ("Silent Night" among them) can be picked out by a 3rd grader on a toy piano, so someone with a bunch of knuckles could find a way of playing chords well enough.

You may recall my post (August 29, 2010) about Liu Wei, the armless pianist. He uses his remarkable feet. So the Rev. Alberta Baker's work here, on simple pieces, is not that surprising. It's still pretty inspirational, and she must have been a fascinating sight at the keyboard.

According to my research (I don't just re-write Wikipedia as most bloggers do), she also learned to play the guitar and marimba. She not only performed in her native Upstate New York, but toured the church circuit, drawing curious crowds. I'm a bit surprised she didn't parlay all this into an appearance on "You Asked For It" (which once showed a female swimmer who had no legs). I guess nobody asked.

Alberta was born in New York, December, 1927, and died May, 1998. She's buried in upstate New York (Cattaraugus County) along with her husband Meurice Baker (January, 1911-April, 1981). With some research help from some newspaper editors in that region, I was able to learn she had two sons (James and Timothy) and two daughters, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Also known as Alberta Baker-Barber, she married Floyd W. Barber in El Paso, Texas after Meurice died. He died before she did, but I don't know if they had divorced, or if she simply preferred her final resting spot to be with her first husband Meurice. Going easy on the "Floyd the Barber" jokes, the trail for that guy has gone cold. I don't know the exact date he died or where he's buried. I could probably find out, but one little problem with blogging…especially a blog that doesn't just throw every recent album and every Beach Boys discography out there with something stolen off "All Music," research not only takes time, but money. I'm not retired and this blog doesn't pay the bills. I do have a passion for researching the ill folks I post about...but I can't spend all my time on it. I wanted to get some kind of post on Reverend Baker up for Easter, so I made that the deadline. (Sorry, Floyd W. Barber...if I find out when he died and where he is, I'll revise this!)

I was able to find a 1965 ad from a Charleston, West Virginia newspaper for a 3-night appearance by the duo:

"Rev. Meurice Baker, Speaking on such subjects as "Rocketry" or "The Women Clothed With the Sun," "Flying Saucers," "Proof of the Soon Coming of the Lord," "Atomic Warfare," "Healing of the Soul." Added attraction? Yes, "Featuring Rev. Alberta Baker, "The Handless Organist." Sister Baker is living proof of GOd's Miracle working power." The 3 nights of lectures and music were held at the "House of Prayer," which was run by Rev. Joe West in South Charleston.

The album notes for Alberta's record are pretty vague and brief, but maybe she had more trouble typing than she did playing the organ:

“To begin this story of how God has blessed my life, may I say that God gets all the glory and all the credit, yes and all the praise for what He has done in my life. As I write this myself, none of this is intended as boasting or bragging, although certain facts may bear a resemblance….

  "I began my musical career at the age of five at an old fashioned pipe organ and I remember, I could reach the pumps with one foot. It wasn’t long however, when I discovered I could also play the piano. Even at an early age, I began to play special numbers at revival meetings throughout the area. Later on, when the 1930′s where changing into the 1940′s, I took a deep interest in the piano-accordian but it wasn’t until about 1953 that my interest took action and I really began to play this instrument to any extent. Finally I went to the electric organ. Also about 1954, an evangelist from Florida dubbed me “The Handless Pianist” which has since been changed to the “HANDLESS ORGANIST”!

  Again, may I say that God must be glorified in this, for it is he who has given me the ability that I have."

 REV. BAKER I'm Longing For Jesus/Turn Your Radio On

REV. BAKER Miracles Still Happen Today- What a Friend We Have in Jesus

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