The “Harvey” Mystery of Newark

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Choose Ye This Day, Caravans, 1966. Church or Tavern?

I’m writing this because I’m obsessed with the golden age of gospel music, Savoy records, and Newark.

The rise of album cover art in the fifties brought about demand for artwork that spawned some now famous designers, illustrators and painters. Among them were Andy Warhol, David Stone Martin, and Jim Flora.

However, the life of one of the most prolific and unique of the era, the artist that the world knows only as Harvey, is shrouded in even more mystery than that of Newark’s own Kea Tawana, the subject of a recent comprehensive exhibition at Gallery Aferro. We do not even know where he lived, though one could logically start in Newark, since his only known client, Savoy Records, was based here. Savoy Records and its subsidiaries (Gospel, Regent and Sharpe) were instrumental in recording the now classic work of some of the greatest black gospel and jazz artists of the forties, fifties and sixties. Infamous owner Herman Lubinksy operated a retail record store across the street from the present location of Gallery Aferro on Market Street. Savoy Records was based at 56 Ferry Street.

Lubinksy hired an artist who signed his name only as “Harvey” to produce artwork that adorned hundreds of album covers, particularly the gospel ones.  In certain record collecting circles, his eerie, apocalyptical, surrealist and highly literal artwork has become legendary, but his identity and life remain shrouded in mystery, and the whereabouts of the original artwork remain unknown.

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Gospel Harmonettes, 1963 (Roman numerals representing commandments emit fire and smoke)

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Holy Train, Swindell Brothers and Rev Johnnie Wilkerson (note the deadpan portrayal of the “Heavenly Gate” that the holy train is destined for)

There are several websites devoted to Harvey.  John Glassburner ‘s www.harveyalbums.com contains a comprehensive collection of images of gospel albums that appeared on the Savoy labels, as well as some speculation on Harvey’s identity. More speculation can be found on the UK Crossrhythms site.  Even more can be found at Cvinyl. Images of Harvey’s work for jazz lps (including Charlie Parker, Sun Ra, Perry Robinson, Bill Hardman and Curtis Fuller) can be found at  Birka Jazz website, an incredibly comprehensive digital repository of jazz album cover art from the late forties to the sixties, including these two gems:

sunrasavoy

parkernewlydiscovered

Newly Discovered Sides by the Immortal Charlie Parker

robinsonsavoy

Funk Dumpling, Perry Robin 4, 1962

Savoy Records was active until the mid eighties. Their covers were printed and fabricated by Newark based Modern Album of New Jersey Inc, and later Globe Album Inc in New York City. It is very possible there is someone who worked either at Savoy, Modern, or Globe can provide additional clues as to the mystery of Harvey; perhaps even his actual identity. Who knows, perhaps even Harvey lives amongst us today!

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