Special Dispatch: Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues, Cleveland
308 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44114
+1 (216) 523-2583
by T. N. Toost
In retrospect, I made too many assumptions. First, what is a gospel brunch? I didn’t know; I just assumed it was a brunch with gospel music. It's like asking for a definition of a fat girl, or pornography, or the perfect fried egg: you know it when you see it, but how do you define it without using subjective adjectives? I don’t feel bad, though: people rely on assumptions, on stereotypes; it’s how we can quickly process massive amounts of information.
First bad assumption: there would be more black people. Reality: with an African great-great-grandmother, I was clearly the blackest patron. Everyone else was white, lily-white, glow-in-the-dark white, with the exception of a few Japanese tourists and a sole black waiter. I wasn’t sure if everyone else was disappointed or not.
Second bad assumption: the food would be amazing. Over three trips to the buffet I had crawfish cheesecake, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken legs, bacon, sausages, a stuffed tomato, scrambled eggs, jambalaya, fried potatoes, a rosemary cornbread muffin with maple butter, pineapple, Tuscan melon, blackberries and blueberries, pecan sticky loaf, apple cobbler, pecan pie and white chocolate banana pudding with crème anglais. With the exception of the muffin, the fruit and the pudding, it was all mediocre, if not downright bad (I’m looking at you, fried chicken); the exceptions, though, were absolutely incredible. The muffin was hot, soft and buttery; the fruit fresh and the pudding sweet and yielding. As I understand it, this pudding was a staple on the plantations; the weak mimosas and strong coffee were just like Remus might have made them.
After our enormous eating session, the Jesus music stopped playing and the incongruous video screen showing Bjork videos rolled up. The band started – four men in matching 4-button chalkstripe suits, and the hostess, a full-bodied black woman in a black velvet gown. She sang “Ain’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus” and, with the thrust in her hips, we wondered how well she knew the Savior. “Take Me Lord” likewise did nothing for her reputation.
Everyone in the audience was clapping along, waving napkins, singing on cue with the band. When the hostess said stand, clap or sing, we stood, clapped and sang. It was an opportunity to get black acceptance and even encouragement without being threatened by their inherent cultural hegemony. There is anti-black sentiment in America, but I suspect anti-white sentiment is even more prevalent in black culture. The gospel brunch, like a pair of fishbowls on a table, allowed each group to see each other with only minor refractions and distortions. It was more a performance than a prayer.