Rock Gospel for the Deaf

In the early winter of 1973, Dan Pokorny, an instructor at Gallaudet College for the Deaf in Washington, D.C., contacted Sons of Thunder with a proposal. His idea was as bizarre to SOT as it was intriguing. Pokorny explained that he had a team of four instructors – he and another from Gallaudet plus two from the Kendall Demonstration School (an elementary school for deaf children) – who wanted to sign and choreograph a Sons of Thunder concert for a hearing-impaired audience. Pokorny and his team believed that because of the volume and intensity of the band’s music, and the heavily accented bass and drum parts, deaf people would experience the music joyfully through vibrations. Some would hear the extreme frequencies too. Pokorny’s team would enhance the musical experience by simultaneously signing and choreographing the songs. Add to this the message of SOT’s songs, and the audience would receive a spiritual lift as well.
         
     

The enthusiasm of Pokorny and his team for this idea won over a skeptical Sons of Thunder, and the band agreed to give it a try. On March 3, 1973 this combined troupe presented “Rock Gospel for the Deaf” in Gallaudet’s large theater, to a full auditorium. It was clear from the start of this two-hour concert that the deaf people attending – most of the audience -- were thrilled to be experiencing music in this way. Joyful faces filled the room and applause was substantial. The response at the close was jubilant, and feedback afterward was highly positive. The concert had clearly had the impact Pokorny and his team had envisioned.
    

Rock Gospel for the Deaf was now fully in motion, and it quickly took on a life of its own. Over the next fourteen months this troupe presented the concert to mostly large audiences of most hearing impaired about 25 times 19 different cities in the eastern and midwestern U.S. (click here for a list of locations and dates). A second concert at Gallaudet in November 1973 was professionally recorded and released as an album, “Rock Gospel: Songs and Signs.” In December 1973 Sons of Thunder and the Gallaudet team taped a TV documentary – a one-hour Rock Gospel concert – at the studios of WETA public television in D.C. “Rock Gospel for the Deaf” was first aired on December 30, 1973, and then many times on WETA and other public TV stations around the U.S. in 1974.
    

The Rock Gospel for the Deaf signing team: Fr. Rudy Gawlik, Pam Minger, Dan
Pokorny, and Dennis Cokley

    

Today, interpreting musical performances for the hearing impaired is commonplace. It was a rarity when Rock Gospel for the Deaf first appeared. While the Rock Gospel team was not the first to do it, they were the first to do it on such a substantial scale. Their concerts demonstrated to thousands that hearing impaired people could deeply enjoy music under the right conditions. The common practice of signing concerts today stems as much as anything from Rock Gospel’s influence.
    

Videos

A video is worth 10,000 words, and thanks to SOT member Dan Robbins, all of the musical segments from the Rock Gospel TV documentary are published on YouTube. There's some differences between these vids and a live Rock Gospel concert: While most RG concerts took place before large audiences, this program was filmed before a small studio audience. The signers and the band were separated on the set too, whereas they worked in close proximity on stage (per the first photo on this page). And most of the verbal/signed introductions to the songs are not included in these clips. Still, they give an excellent and inspiring picture of what Rock Gospel for the Deaf was about.

They are also the only footage available of the original Sons of Thunder in performance. SOT tamed its music considerably for Rock Gospel, and edgier songs from their regular concerts weren't included. (Songs for RG were chosen for their ease of signing, primarily.) The vids also feature the RG signers much more than the musicians. Still, these videos give a good picture of SOT's musicianship and vocal excellence.
    
So, here's what available, and we hope you enjoy them! Following this listing you'll find some newspaper articles on Rock Gospel, and a listing of where Rock Gospel concerts took place.
    

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"Rock Gospel for the Deaf" TV Documentary in YouTube Segments

    
Thumbnail Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord
1:57
Thumbnail I Heard the Voice/Lean on Me/Magnificent
Sanctuary Band

10.35
      
Thumbnail Zacchaeus/Peter
8:39
Thumbnail Joy Is Like the Rain/I Can See
Clearly Now

5:59
    
Thumbnail I Believe in Music
3:05
Thumbnail Spread a Little Love Around/
He Ain't Heavy

9:07
    
Thumbnail We Shall Overcome
4:56
Thumbnail I'm Going to Keep on Singing
2:47
    
Thumbnail Day by Day
3:30
  

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"I Hear Your Hand" and "Give Me a Sign" Videos

      

Inspired by Rock Gospel for the Deaf, SOT member Dan Robbins, with friend Mary Jane Rhodes, wrote two songs, which were used in national Deaf Awareness TV Spots funded by Quota Club International and National Women's Grange. These deaf awareness classics are "I Hear Your Hand" and "Give Me a Sign." Dan recorded these songs with Sons of Thunder, and they were released on a 45 rpm record in 1974. Dan, Rita Corey, and a team of hearing-impaired youth produced videos of the songs as well. They are posted on YouTube.

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News Articles on Rock Gospel for the Deaf

Article on Rock Gospel for the Deaf in The Evening Star, November 1973: "There's Good Signs at Gallaudet," by religious editor William Willoughby. To larger readable version. (The Evening Star was Washington, D.C.'s second largest newspaper at the time.)

    

Article on Rock Gospel for the Deaf in Style section of The Washington Post, May 9, 1974: "A Music Where Silence is Golden," by Joseph McLellan. To larger readable version.

    
Article on Rock Gospel TV documentary in WETA's newsletter, January 1974. To larger readable version.
     

Where Rock Gospel for the Deaf Was Performed

          

03/03/73: Washington, D.C., at Gallaudet College

03/13/73: Williamsburg, Virginia, William and Mary, for National Convention of Deaf Educators

07/14/73: Kansas City, Missouri, for convention for International Lutheran Deaf Association

07/15/73: St. Louis, at Concordia Seminary

07/16/73: Memphis, at Memphis State University

07/17/73: Birmingham, at Birmingham Southern College, Munger Auditorium

09/22/73: Ft. Wayne, Indiana: at Concordia Senior College

09/23/73: Detroit, Michigan, location lost

09/30/73: Frederick, Maryland, probably at Frederick Alliance Church

10/19/73: Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Millersville State College

10/26/73: Hartford, Connecticut, location lost

10/27/73: Brooklyn, NY, location lost but may have been St. Francis DeSales School for the Deaf

10/28/73: Philadelphia, location lost

11/10/73: Columbus, Ohio, at Capital University's Mees Hall

11/11/73: Pittsburgh, location lost

11/20/73: Washington, D.C., at Gallaudet College

12/11/73: WETA television studios, in taping of PBS documentary

03/23/74: Brooklyn, New York, at St. Francis DeSales School for the Deaf

04/16/74: Framingham, Massachusetts, at Deaf Community Center

04/17/74: Providence, Rhode Island, location lost

04/18/74: Norwich, Connecticut, location lost

05/07/74: Washington, D.C., at Gallaudet College

05/11/74: Rochester, New York, probably at Roberts Wesleyan College

05/16/74: Framingham, Massachusetts, Deaf Community Center

05/17/74: Providence, Rhode Island, location lost

05/18/74: Norwich, Connecticut, location lost

08/24/74: Newark, N.J.: St. John's Roman Catholic Church

11/10/74: Frederick, Maryland, at Thomas Jefferson High School

          

Sons of Thunder
P.O. Box 448
Damascus, Maryland 20872
sot@nehemiahministries.com

   

Celebrating America's Pioneer Christian Rock Band

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