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Juanita Dranes (1889/1891-1963), known professionally as Arizona Dranes, was a blind gospel singer and pianist from Texas, USA. She was one of the first professional female gospel singers.
In the 1920s, she started performing at Church of Good in Christ (COGIC) meetings, where the singing and piano playing Danes would incorporate a syncopated, ragtime style into her gospel accompaniment. It was during this era that she established songs such as “I Shall Wear A Crown,” “My Soul’s a Witness for the Lord,” and “Lamb’s Blood Has Washed Me Clean” as COGIC standards.
Dranes incorporated “worldy music” such as barrellhouse, boogie and ragtime into her gospel performances, and was also one of the first Holiness gospel artists who became widely known outside the Holiness churches.
Dranes had a distinctive nasal vocal style that influenced many later gospel artists, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe. With her piano playing, she served as an inspiration for musicians such as Clara Ward and Roberta Martin.
Juanita Dranes was born to African-American parents on May 4 in Sherman, a town located in northern Texas.
Some sources list her birth year as 1889 and others 1891. There is also some conflict regarding the original spelling of her last name, with Drane and Drain being offered as an alternative to Dranes. (Both her parents were illiterate, and therefore couldn’t really argue if anyone spelled the name wrong when it was written down.)
She was born blind, and between 1896 and 1910, she lived in Austin where she attended the Texas Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youth.
In her early teens, she learned to play the piano.
Church of God in Christ Church
After graduating from the Texas Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youth, Dranes returned to Sherman and lived there four ten years.
In 1922, she joined the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in Wichita Falls, another town in northern Texas, roughly 150 miles from Sherman. COGIC was known for encouraging musical expression during their religious meetings, and allowed women to both sing and teach at church.
With COGIC, the singing and piano playing Dranes soon garnered the attention of the church founder Bishop Charles Mason who made sure she got ample opportunities to perform within the COGIC community.
Prior to Danes, Holiness music had been mostly performed a cappella, and Danes is credited for helping to popularize the concept of singing it accompanied by the piano. She often accompanied herself, combining gospel songs with piano music in the barrelhouse and ragtime styles.
Danes toured the COGIC circuit in the Bible Belt, chiefly in Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Arizona Danes began recording for Okeh Records in 1926 and her last recording was made just two years later, even though she continued to tour through the 1940s.
During her recording period, she first did solo music and later also recorded with choirs, groups and other artists.
Later years and death
Danes moved to Los Angeles in 1948 and died there on July 27, 1963.
|Arizona Dranes, Sara Martin And Richard M. Jones / Arizona Dranes – John Said He Saw A Number / My Soul Is A Witness For The Lord
|In That Day / Crucifixion (Shellac, 10″)||Okeh||1926|
|It’s All Right Now / Sweet Heaven Is My Home
|Arizona Dranes Assisted By Rev. F. W. McGee* And Jubilee Singers (2) – Lamb’s Blood Has Washed Me Clean / I’m Going Home On The Morning Train
|I Shall Wear A Crown / I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go
|Just Look / Don’t You Want To Go?
|Arizona Dranes 1926-1928
|Herwin Records, Herwin Records||1976|
|Arizona Dranes Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order – 1926-1929
|Document Records (2)||1993|
|He Is My Story – The Sanctified Soul Of Arizona Dranes
(CD, Album, Comp)
Dodge, Timothy. The School of Arizona Dranes: Gospel Music Pioneer (Lexington Books, 2013).