Why should you listen to the “Sweet Daddy Grace Podcast”?
Because it’s a record of history. Because it will open your mind to an understanding of Black migrant culture. Because you’ll learn about Cape Verde and its residents, and it will help you understand why they came to live in the United States. You’ll get to sneak a peek behind the curtains during the founding of an important 20th century Black church movement. And because you’ll have the chance to understand the church’s legendary founder, Bishop Charles Manuel “Sweet Daddy” Grace.
Bishop Grace was born Marcelino Manuel da Graça on the Cape Verdean Island of Brava. He traveled to the United States, like other Cape Verdeans, looking for temporary employment and had hoped to return to the African island nation. But Grace felt God was calling him to remain in the U.S., so he stayed and built a church.
With his United House of Prayer for All People (UHOP), Grace created a major Black church movement in the United States––a movement that remains vibrant to this day.
The “Sweet Daddy Grace Podcast” explains how the Cape Verdean Graça anglicized his name and became Grace. It explains the traditions he brought to the U.S., why he structured his church to have Catholic leanings, why music plays a big role in UHOP services, and why racial barriers that often restrained native-born African Americans living in mid 20th century America appeared arbitrary and unnecessary to Sweet Daddy Grace.
The podcast tells Grace’s story through the eyes of Marcy DePina, a Newark, New Jersey-based podcast producer who is also of Cape Verdean descent. Bishop Grace’s flamboyance and notoriety was something DePina grew up hearing about, but most of the Cape Verdeans she knew were mildly ashamed of Grace’s reputation. “My own story and my own family history is intertwined within his story, and he’s always been a figure in the background in my life,” DePina said.. “There was always this lingering question as to whether we were really related to him or not. Because you know family members would whisper about it, but if us kids started asking questions, we were shooed away and told to mind our business, or they would start speaking in Creole so that we couldn’t understand.”
Yet DePina grew up determined to find out why there was so much of a mystery around Grace and his Cape Verdean ancestry. “So, I wanted to look at this from two perspectives: one his own life, but also my own life. I wanted to look at how family history often times––especially when there’s a secret involved––can get buried with a person when they go, and you might never know the truth.”
Cape Verdean embarrassment about Bishop Grace was partly tied to the way he was depicted in the public. His religiosity may have been a draw for thousands, but in the majority white press—and sometimes even in the Black press—Grace was portrayed as a charlatan.
UHOP’s financial success had allowed Bishop Grace to make substantial real estate acquisitions: at one point he was known as one of the richest Black men in America. When Grace died in January 1960, the Amsterdam News’ James Hicks wrote “The death of Daddy Grace brings down the curtain on one of the most colorful, religious careers American [sic] has ever known. His acquisition of such properties as the famous Castle at 2 Fairmount Avenue in the Annex at Bridgeport, Conn.; the fabulous El Dorado apartment at 300 Central Park West in New York; his walled manor in Cuba and other choice pieces of real estate in various parts of the world earned he and his followers the title of the wealthiest of religious groups in the nation bar none––and that includes the empire of Father Divine.”
But like Father Divine, Marcus Garvey, Noble Drew Ali, Detroit’s James F. Jones, and countless others, Sweet Daddy Grace was characterized in a way that made him a figure of shame and disdain.
“There was an air of mystery around them. They were talking about radical concepts and very different ways of viewing the world. They were inspiring people to look at themselves from a different perspective and understand their intrinsic value and understand their power––which was radical at that time.
“I think that made them dangerous and I think, for most people living in America, being a Black person in America at that time was so dangerous and people just wanted to stay safe,” DePina said. “Figures like Daddy Grace, Noble Drew Ali, and Marcus Garvey, who held different points of view and had different religious practices and different ideas about spirituality and about what it means to be a Black person. They were seen as dangerous… as subversive and anyone associating with somebody like that could get in trouble.”
The “Sweet Daddy Grace Podcast” is DePina’s attempt to draw another image of Bishop Grace, one that shows his faults, his good deeds, and his philosophy of life. DePina wears many hats beyond being a podcaster. She’s also a DJ and radio host, producer with iHeartPodcasts, executive director at the Newark City Parks Foundation, Inc., a music curator at the Newark Museum of Art, president of the board of directors at Newark Arts, and founder of FORSA! Media Group LLC. Piecing together Bishop Grace’s life story helped DePina understand the rich trajectory of her own life’s work.
“I’m a DJ and one of the biggest things for me is about raising frequency through sound. It’s what I love to do: I love seeing people rejoice and feel those moments of just sheer joy when they’re dancing and they’re enjoying the music or they’re singing along. I had this moment [while deejaying]…where I was just like wow, I kind of feel like I get it, I feel a little bit like Daddy Grace. I’m spreading my own joy, I’m on my own spiritual mission of helping other people but through music. As I was watching people go into a state of trance and shouting and dancing in the congregation at the House of Prayer, I felt that really deep connection in knowing that I was on the right path in telling this story. [C]ertainly this podcast is part of his legacy, but it’s also part of mine.”