Photo by Ruth Morgan
Veteran Trombonist and Director, McCollough Sons of Thunder
“If you’re sick, the music will heal you, it’s not blues, jazz or R&B,
it’s holy music.”
Most music can be heard around town in clubs, but the music played by the McCollough Sons of Thunder, a.k.a. the Thunder Birds, will not be heard in such places.
Their music is inspirational with only one rule, no playing in clubs or places where people are drinking hard liquor. Granted it sounds strange until one considers the source of this unique ensemble of 13 members, who are all dedicated God-fearing men of the United House of Prayer For All People.
Edward Babb is the assistant pastor of the church and trombonist and spokesman for the Thunder Birds, which began in1962. “The music that we play in th House of Prayer gives praise to the Lord, and our congregation can dance to it as well,” says Babb. “It’s swinging gospel and it will make you jump. Some may tell you it’s New Orleans music, but our music touches the soul. If you’re sick, the music will heal you, it’s not blues, jazz or R&B, it’s holy music.”
The McCollough Sons of Thunder play every Sunday during their church services at the House of Prayer, located in Harlem, on Frederick Douglass Boulevard (between 125th and 124th Streets). The all brass ensemble includes a host of trombones, tenor tuba, snare drum players, loud cymbals and tambourines. “We’ve had music like this all the time in the House of Prayer,” says Babb.
Babb can play all the instruments in the band but the trombone is his main instrument and sometimes he sings a few gospel bars. He started playing trombone at the House of Prayer at age 13. He is totally self-taught and doesn’t read music. “I never had a formal teacher. I just practiced on my own,” says Babb. “I would make up tunes and just play rather than listen to songs and imitate them. My playing is a gift from God.” Babb was presented the distinguished National Fellowship Heritage Award at the White House during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
The ensemble has played at Avery Fisher and Carnegie Halls. They have toured the world playing at the King’s Palace in Morocco and in Sidney’s Opera House, in Australia. “We were there for six days, and Australia will never be the same,” laughs Babb. “The songs we play are primarily original tunes; it’s a different concept all together.”
—by RON SCOTT