Today we welcome gospel steel guitarist, Chuck Campbell to Action Speaks for our October 17th panel on Pentecostalism. Campbell was just 5 years old when he discovered his love of the steel guitar during a national meeting of the Holiness-Pentecostal church in Tennessee. By the age of seventeen he had become one of the first players to introduce the pedal steel guitar (as opposed to the lap steel guitar) into the House of God Church, Keith Dominion. Today, Campbell is considered one of the great innovators working within the Sacred Steel tradition.
Sacred Steel is a genre of African-American gospel music that has played a pivotal role in the history of Pentecostalism, especially in the House of God community, where it originated. Though Campbell grew up in the Pentecostal Church (his father is a bishop), he is known also for his role in bringing sacred steel to a secular audience. His gospel group—The Campbell Brothers, a family affair—has played venues including the Hollywood Bowl, the Kennedy Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Symphony Space. By showcasing Sacred Steel outside of traditional religious spaces, “[the Campbells are] shredding perceptions of … the limitations of church music.”
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In 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts named Campbell a National Heritage Fellow, one of the highest honors available to American folk artists. In an interview for the NEA, Campbell admitted that the award took him by surprise: “I thought it was a joke because I had no idea that I was even nominated … My manager called me at the job and said, ‘You know, Charlie, you always downplay everything you’ve been doing, but you can’t aw shucks this one away. This is huge.’”
Campbell has said that he loves the steel guitar because “it’s one of the most expressive instruments in the world. I know a lot of people say that about their instrument. But the pedal steel is not only a beautiful instrument melodically, but because of its expressiveness. It’s almost an instrument with a soul.”