Author / Record Producer
Home    ♦    About    ♦    Books    ♦    Recordings    ♦    Photos    ♦    Contact
The Heilbut family, 1948. From left to right: Anthony, aged 7; Bertha, aged 37; Wilfred, aged 4; Otto, aged 57. “German-Jewish émigrés wore their jackets and ties in the noonday sun. (My émigré father wore them to Jones Beach!)”
            — The Fan Who Knew Too Much, page 162
 
            Heilbut Profile  [PDF]  Tablet Magazine

Anthony Heilbut, 1958. Aged 17, a Queens College sophomore, Heilbut (far right) is arguing with Malcolm X, who advised him that it was “too soon for them to become friends.”
                                Photo: Lloyd Yearwood

Anthony Heilbut and Delois Barrett Campbell, 1972, Chicago. This photo was taken in a Chicago recording studio, where Heilbut was producing his first album, Precious Lord: The Gospel Songs of Thomas A. Dorsey. Campbell remained a close friend of Heilbut’s until her death in 2011, aged 85.

Anthony Heilbut and Willie Mae Ford Smith, 1977, New York. This photo was taken in Central Park. A few years later, Mother Smith, perhaps the most influential of all early gospel soloists, would star in George T. Nierenberg’s film Say Amen Somebody, a movie greatly informed by Heilbut’s work. She used to call him “My Tony” and “My Play Godfather,” despite a 36-year difference in age.
 
                                Photo: David Gahr

Anthony Heilbut and R. H. Harris, 1989, New York.
This photo was taken at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel,
an hour before The Soul Stirrers, Harris’ quartet,
would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Harris, Ira Tucker of The Dixie Hummingbirds, and Reverend Claude Jeter of The Swan Silvertones were among the greatest quartet leads of their era. Heilbut was fortunate to produce all three, and was honored when Reverend Jeter called him his “best friend.”
 
                                Photo: Tim Seggerman

Anthony Heilbut and Marion Williams, 1988, New York.
By then diabetes had ravaged Williams’ body. Yet despite her thrice-weekly dialysis treatments, she continued to work with Heilbut, as she had done since 1972. (Their friendship had begun almost fifteen years earlier.) In her last years Williams recorded a series of a cappella vocals unique in American musical history. One, A Charge to Keep I Have, is featured throughout the movie Fried Green Tomatoes and remains her most popular song. Another, O Death, was included in a 2005 reissue, Remember Me. After a single playing of the song on NPR, the CD zoomed to #16 on Amazon.com — an unprecedented feat for a recording of traditional gospel, and one of the proudest moments of Heilbut’s life.
                                Photo: David Gahr

Inez Andrews, Evelyn Starks Hardy, Herbert Pickard, and Anthony Heilbut, 2010. This photo was taken at Harlem’s Baptist House of Prayer, and unites Heilbut with some of
his dearest friends.
 
Inez Andrews, often called “The High Priestess of Gospel,” is best known for her classic performance of Mary Don’t
You Weep.
Evelyn Starks Hardy and Herbert Pickard both served as pianists of The Original Gospel Harmonettes,
a group led by Dorothy Love Coates — whom Heilbut considers his sister, since she owned him as her brother before 5,000 people in Central Park. In a better culture, Heilbut contends, these three artists would be considered Living National Treasures.
                                Photo: Dr. Ronnie J. Johnson

Heilbut likes to joke that the social and political are “as indivisible as mercy and grace.” At the 2016 Gay Pride March in New York, he helped carry a banner that read “Republican Hatred Kills.” He has been a committed radical since the third grade when he informed his fellow students that The Star Spangled Banner was a “prejudice song,”
with its verse about killing slaves and Native Americans.
He wound up the most unpopular kid in the class. Twenty years later, his father was convinced that he lost his first teaching job because of his aggressive and very public anti-war stance. Whatever the case, he’s been marching for nearly sixty years; and — as his friend Inez Andrews used to sing — “ain’t got tired yet.”
 
                                Photo: Andy Humm