A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 22, 2013
“Take a song to church” (music saying)

A musical artist can “take a song to church,” meaning to give a performance like one in a church. Adding a gospel choir is one way to “take a song to church.” A singer who belts high notes and sings with great emotion can “take a song to church.”

“Take the song to church” was cited in print in 1989 and the expression became popular by the late 1990s.

1 December 1989, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, “Sound Bites” by Eric Snider and Alan Paul, Weekend, pg. 17:
She drops the tempo; her sweeping organ and punchy piano take the song to church and drive home its somber message: ...

6 December 1995, Myrtle Beach (FL) Sun News, “Weather can’t dampen spirits,” pg. 1C:
Jackie took the song to church—she knew how to work the crowd. She held notes, squeezed her eyes closed on mushy parts and moved her body to the rhythm.

Google Groups: bit.listserv.blues-l
Newsgroups: bit.listserv.blues-l
From: (Ron Weinstock)
Date: 1998/12/17
Subject: Re: White trash Horns
I believe that “Rainbow” is a Curtis Mayfield song that Chandler recorded. Locally, it is one of the staples of the Hardway Connection’s live show, and they take the song to church.

Google Groups: alt.music.maxwell
Newsgroups: alt.music.maxwell
Date: 1999/03/25
Subject: Fortunate
At first I’d have to admit that I wasn’t feeeling “Fortunate” and that is only because he spoiled us to death with a piece of work like “Embrya”. But after listening to it, really listening to it...I don’t know what y’all are talking about. THE MAN TOOK THE SONG TO CHURCH!!!!! And I ain’t talking about the pulpit type grin

james butler
Posted 13 December 2002 - 12:32 AM
I’m leaving towards “YLUML” Whitney took this song to church!
(YLUML” is “You Light Up My Life”—ed.)

Google Books
Mercy, Mercy Me: T
he art, loves, and demons of Marvin Gaye

By Michael Eric Dyson
New York, NY: Basic Civitas
Pg. 95:
On top of the reggae beat, he “took the song to church”: he gave it spiritual intonations and the subdued fervor that marks vocal performances in black religious circles.

May 2 2007 10:50 AM EDT 944
‘Idol’ Recap
By Commentator Jim Cantiello
Song: “Have a Nice Day”
Verdict: Rock of Aged

Melinda didn’t just take the song to church — she took it to church, drove it around the block, parked in a remote area, had her way with it and then dropped it back at its folks’ house hours after its curfew! Mindy growled like a cougar, strutted like Tina Turner and single-handedly proved that a good performer can sing anything and make it jaw-droppingly brilliant.

May 13 2009 9:49 AM EDT
Adam Lambert’s ‘One’: The Story Behind The Cover
‘American Idol’ judge Simon Cowell selected the moving U2 hit for Lambert.

By Gil Kaufman
Lambert took the song to church, bringing some gospel-via-Broadway flavor to the Irish rock band’s 1991 hit. Lambert got a bit of flak from judge Randy Jackson for switching up the song’s melody, but overall, the panel once again gave him high praise.

Rolling Stone
Michael Jackson: The Essential Moments
Twenty-five high points, from “I Want You Back” to “You Rock My World”

July 9, 2009 4:30 PM ET
“Man in the Mirror” at the Grammy Awards, 1988
When people first heard the studio version, he sounded full of himself. But at the Grammys, he took the song to church, with a full-blown gospel production that stands as one of his most stunning vocal workouts.

City newspaper (Rochester, NY)
“American Idol” 2013: Sudden Death, Round 4 (Top 10 guys revealed)
Vincent Powell, 29, from Austin, Texas, is also a worship leader—at least two of those this week. Have we ever seen him before? Vincent sang a r’n’b song I’ve never heard of, but it was really good. Vincent can sing, has great control, and his voice has that fishhook quality—it catches you. As they say in the business, he took that song to church. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • Friday, March 22, 2013 • Permalink