This song is sampled in Pink Skies (Demo) by Wiley from Atlanta, which I stumbled upon while hopping Song Radios on Spotify. Wiley loops a soundbite of a gospel track—a soulful rise and fall over a gentle, barely-there guitar—repeatedly to construct the main beat of the song. The first 25 seconds or so the song, which is just the sample with no additional vocals from Wiley, immediately touched my soul. It felt like the purest incarnation of gospel, a profoundly religious experience. It resonated with me at a physical level… like each loop was exorcising some long-held, previously unknown trauma from my body.

Pink Skies (Demo)

Then Wiley started singing and I was like… cool 👍. It’s not that “Pink Skies” isn’t enjoyable to listen to—it is, actually. His voice is throaty and growly contrasts nicely with the gentleness and tranquility of the gospel loop, and he’s got the melody and pacing of the song to play really well with the sample. The recurring line: “Pink skies twisted up with the blues” is unexpectedly evocative. It’s a solid song. But no doubt that the sample is what makes it worth listening to—without it, the song is far more mediocre. You only have to listen to the sample-less live version to see this. told me that Wiley from Atlanta had sampled The Gospelaire’s ‘A Sad Song’ for Pink Skies. Simple enough, right? Now I can listen to A Sad Song on repeat and discover inner peace. But then I saw that ‘A Sad Song’ had been removed from the Gospelaires’ Spotify, at least in the United States. So I checked out some of the rest of The Gospelaires’ music—their 1976 album, “Peace in the Valley”, was wonderful and I loved the cover. But nothing quite expelled my demons like that sample did. I needed to find A Sad Song.

Peace in the Valley cover.

It wasn’t on iTunes. Not Amazon, or Pandora. So then for the Google-fu:

The first video link that pops up when you look up “the gospelaires a sad song”,, looked promising, but then I clicked it and it played “He Heard Me Cry” by the Gospelaires instead. And I quickly realized that we were looking specifically for the music of the Gospelaires of Dayton, Ohio and the name “Gospelaires” has actually been used by a lot of different gospel groups.

It wasn’t listed on the YouTube Topic for the Gospelaires, and the single YouTube playlist I saw that’s called ‘a sad song gospelaires’ had 3 videos, 2 of which were deleted and 1 of which was an interview with Tyler Perry and Gillian Anderson. I watched this interview, but no song. A tumblr post from 2013, “Boomplay” (?),, no dice. Simultaneously, I messaged a friend who’s in Switzerland to see if he could open the Spotify link for A Sad Song in his country, but it was like 6am there, and kind of a potshot considering the song barely seemed to exist on the internet in general. This website provided some nice background information on the Gospelaires of Dayton and the lead singer, Paul Arnold, but the link to “A Sad Song” listed lead to a YouTube video that no longer existed. The CD for “Bones in the Valley & Can I Get a Witness” (an album which the song is included on) was available in some public libraries, but in like, Nebraska. My options were looking like A) buy the physical CD on eBay for a crisp $23.97 (it’s listed for upwards of $200 on Amazon, for some reason) and play it on the PS3 at home, or B) tweet Wiley from Atlanta and ask him to DM me the .mp3 file.

Then somehow I found this song called “rildi” (url: ???). There was an option to play “A Sad Song” by The Gospelaires of Dayton online and also download it. And I’m thinking it’s a fake download thing but I’m willing to risk a virus for the experience of spiritual transcendence. And lo and behold—it WORKS and IS the actual song. Man, what a rush.

Okay, now to talk about the music:

A couple plucks of the guitar, and we’re taken right into the sweet, soothing gospel harmonization that Wiley sampled. It’s purifying. Over the cascade of the choir, a strong, scratchy voice says like a sermon: “I want to take this moment here to acknowledge some great gospel singers who have already deceased from our land. Even though they have gone, I can still feel the presence of them… I believe the Gospelaires here in this studio today can already feel the presence of them right now.” And we see that the spirituality ‘A Sad Song’ is concerned with isn’t God, necessarily, but the history of gospel which precedes this moment.

“C’mon Charles,” and then Charles (Charles “Sky High” McClean) sings to us in a bright, soaring voice: “Is there anybody here who ever saw Archie Brownlee sing?” And alongside the melody, still in a sermon-like delivery: “Archie was the lead singer of the Blind Boys of Mississippi… I’m gonna leave him in the hands of the Lord.” McClean’s vocals (beautiful) and the speaking parts are interpolated in this way that’s the perfect balance between spontaneous and deliberate. And it’s all underscored by the choir harmonization which ebbs and flows as needed, to emphasize grief and remembrance at key moments (“Archie Brownlee was gone… He was gone.”).

The Five Blind Boys of Missisipi

More great singers are spoken of: Madame Edna Gallmon Cooke, who was famous for her recordings “regarding omens, the sickrooms, fables and death” and died unexpectedly in 1967. Two of the Nightingales (seemingly a reference to the Sensational Nightingales), Herbert and Davis. There’s a mention of “Jimmy “ and what I think I’m hearing as “Outlaw.” However, I’m probably interpreting this wrong because “Jimmy Outlaw” seems to be a professional baseball player from the ’30s, which is probably not right. Ruth Davis of the Davis Sisters, who died in 1970.

Madame Edna Gallmon Cooke

The Davis Sisters

With about a minute and half to go, the choir crescendoes suddenly into a high-clear, flooding sound. Almost a scream, if a scream were melodic. An expression of mourning and of loss. The song ends with a harmony of “They are gone” over and over, the growl of stories and anecdotes descending into raw emotions. It’s a beautiful experience filled with lament and tenderness and something holy in nature, and it memorializes a part of the history of gospel in America that I honestly knew nothing about until now. ‘A Sad Song’ is akin to a sonic baptism.

Thanks, Wiley.