On November 18, 1978, more than nine hundred members of the Peoples Temple, under the guidance of cult leader Rev. Jim Jones, killed themselves or were murdered in the jungles of Guyana. Five years before the mass suicide-murder though, Jones was a pillar of the San Francisco community, hobnobbing with government officials and other big-shots while leading his adoring congregation in religious, social, and political activism. It was during those sunny days that Jones and the Peoples Temple released "He's Able," a soulful gospel album featuring the congregation's choir, band, and of course their fearless leader. Rolling Stone's David Chiu shares the history of this private press LP that took on a whole new life after its creators' tragic deaths:
In a way, the Temple choir and the band were a microcosm of the church: a group of performers of different races, age groups and social backgrounds who came together to advance progressive and social causes, such as helping the underprivileged. "These are voices that no longer are here," says Leslie Wagner-Wilson, a former Temple choir member, of the album. "And they were singing because they had hope. They had a hope for a better world."..
Jim Jones himself appeared on the record, singing lead on the hymnal "Down From His Glory," a reworking of the Neapolitan song "O Sole Mio." (Listen below.) "He came in with a couple of his guards that were with him," (music director James) Beam recalls of that particular session with Jones. "Everybody in the recording studio that worked there looked at this guy and went, 'Whoa, what's going on with this?' He had his sunglasses on at 12 at night. Loretta played live with him [on the organ] while he did it. It was kind of a strange thing for the people that worked there." Wood says there was a hidden subtext to why Jones recorded that particular song. "If you listen to that carefully, Jim is really saying, 'I'm God and I came down from my glory'"…
Under the Brothers Records moniker, the self-distributed He's Able was released in 1973. (The group name printed on the cover was "People's Temple Choir," differing from the sans-apostrophe style favored by the Peoples Temple at large.) "I thought by and large it came out good," says Beam, "on what we planned, what we had to work with and everything. There was a lot of effort put into it. I've still got my original copy." He estimates that about 40,000 copies of the album were pressed and that thousands of those copies were sold at the services — alongside other items such as pictures of Jim Jones, key chains and holy oil apparently anointed by the minister himself. "There were very few things that the church did that didn't make a shitload of money," says (band-member Bryce Wood, who chose not to use his real name for the story).
"'He's Able': Inside the Jonestown Cult's Forgotten Gospel Album" (Rolling Stone)