African American Religion
& the Great Migration
Eileen Luhr
• How did urbanization affect African American
religious practices?
• How did issues of class and race affect
African American religious practices?
• How did gospel music influence popular
music and African American identity during
the 1950s and 1960s?
Content standards
11.2. Students analyze the relationship among the rise of industrialization, large-scale rural-to-urban migration, and
massive immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe.
11.2.2. Describe the changing landscape, including the growth of cities linked by industry and trade, and the
development of cities divided according to race, ethnicity, and class.
11.5. Students analyze the major political, social, economic, technological, and cultural developments of the 1920s.
11.5.5. Describe the Harlem Renaissance and new trends in literature, music, and art, with special attention to the
work of writers (e.g., Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes).
11.5.6. Trace the growth and effects of radio and movies and their role in the worldwide diffusion of popular
11.5.7. Discuss the rise of mass production techniques, the growth of cities, the impact of new technologies (e.g.,
the automobile, electricity), and the resulting prosperity and effect on the American landscape.
11.8. Students analyze the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II America.
11.8.8. Discuss forms of popular culture, with emphasis on their origins and geographic diffusion (e.g., jazz and
other forms of popular music, professional sports, architectural and artistic styles).
Analysis Skills Standards
Chronological and Spatial Thinking
• Students analyze how change happens at different rates at different times;
understand that some aspects can change while others remain the same; and
understand that change is complicated and affects not only technology and
politics but also values and beliefs.
• Students use a variety of maps and documents to interpret human movement,
including major patterns of domestic and international migration, changing
environmental preferences and settlement patterns, the frictions that develop
between population groups, and the diffusion of ideas, technological
innovations, and goods.
Historical interpretation
• Students show the connections, causal and otherwise, between particular
historical events and larger social, economic, and political trends and
• Students recognize the complexity of historical causes and effects, including
the limitations on determining cause and effect.
presentation sections
Religion in the South
Religion and the Great Migration
Slave religion
Religion & “freedom” after Reconstruction
Efforts to reform freedmen’s religion
Divisions among African Americans
The rise of the “sanctified” churches”
Great Migration
Life in the North
Religious traditions in the North
Traditions from the South
Competition in the religious marketplace
“cultural southernizing” of religion
Toward a secular style? From Gospel to Soul
Religion & popular music
The commodification of gospel music
Toward a “soul style”
Part I: Religion in the South
A. Slave religion
• Oral tradition, spirit possession, chanted sermons, sacred
sense of time and space, communal setting for singing,
feeling of familiarity with God
• worship practices:
• Example: Bessie Jones and the Sea Island Singers, “O Day”
recorded in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, 1960—Alan Lomax
commissioned as musical consultant for a colonial Williamsburg
project. Song = Christmas and New Year’s shout welcoming the
new day at the end of an all-night worship service
• Example: Lawrence McKiver & the McIntosh County Singers,
• contrast to origins of an urban tradition: African Methodist
Episcopalian, established in the North during the
antebellum period
B. After Reconstruction
• religion and "freedom”:
• Emancipation was “a glorious confirmation of the
sacred world view and the expressive culture the slaves
had forged and maintained through their years of
bondage” (Levine, p.138).
• Many African Americans equated “freedom” with
freedom of worship, especially since many white
churches continued to defend slavery with a scriptural
justification. They also wanted to maintain the old
rules of separate pews and white governance.
• Church and family became the cornerstones of African
American community in the South after the Civil War.
C. depictions of services by white media and
reformers white media & reformers: efforts to
“reform” the worship practices of freed slaves
in the South
• The following excerpts offer first-hand accounts of
either slave or freedmen's worship services. Some
accounts describe formal religious practices such
as church meetings; others describe a religious
tradition known as the shout, which often
occurred after formal meetings or on holidays.
(right) Revival Meeting, 1873
source: William Ludwell Sheppard, Frank
Leslie's illustrated, LOC
Lucy Chase, a white Quaker from the North who
went to the Sea Islands to teach freedmen.
letter dated January 15, 1862
At one of their prayer-meetings, which we
attended, last night, we saw a painful exhibition
of their barbarism. Their religious feeling is
purely emotional; void of principle, and of no
practical utility. The Dr says they will rise from
prayer and lie or steal, if the way opens
3 December 1862 diary entry of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an abolitionist, a Unitarian minister from the North, and
colonel of a regiment of former slaves from South Carolina .
From a neighboring campfire comes one of those strange concerts half powwow, half prayer meeting…These fires are often
enclosed in a sort of little booth made neatly of palm leaves covered in at the top, a native African hut in short; this at times is
crammed with men singing at the top of their voices—often the John Brown song was sung, but oftener these incomprehensible
negro Methodist, meaningless monotonous, endless chants with obscure syllables recurring constantly & slight variations
interwover all accompanied with a regular drumming of the feet & clapping of the hands, like castinets; then the excitement
spreads, outside the enclosure men begin to quiver and dance, others join, a circle forms, winding monotonously round some
one in the centre. Some heel & toe tumultuously, others merely tremble & stagger on, others stoop & rise, others whirl, others
caper sidewise all keep steadily circling like dervishes, outsiders applaud special strokes of skill, my approach only enlivens the
scene, the circle enlarges, louder grows the singing about Jesus & heaven, & ceaseless drumming & clapping go steadily on. At
last seems to come a snap and the spell breaks amid general sighs & laughter. And this not rarely but night after night.
D. divisions among African Americans
• differences in class and geography:
– "piety" associated with respectability: class divisions
– differences in practices between rural and urban
• ideas about morality, worship practices, and
– desire to foster restrained worship and disdain for
ecstatic conversion, dreams, ring shouts, songlike
sermonizing. Daniel A. Payne, AME bishop, described
a shout at a camp meeting: “it was a heathenish way
to worship and disgraceful to themselves, the race,
and the Christian name.”
Daniel A. Payne, AME (African Methodist Episcopal) bishop. Born to free African American
parents in South Carolina , Payne moved to Philadelphia to attend school. He later became
the first African American man to become the president of a university (Wilberforce). The
AME church was based in the North, but during Reconstruction the church put great effort
into evangelizing among former slaves. This excerpt, which recounts an 1878 episode over
a decade after emancipation, appeared in Payne's autobiography.
About this time [1878] I attended a “bush meeting,” where I went to please the pastor whose
circuit I was visiting. After the sermon they formed a ring, and with coats off sung, clapped
their hands and stamped their feet in a most ridiculous and heathenish way. I requested the
pastor to go and stop their dancing. At his request they stopped their dancing and clapping of
hands, but remained singing and rocking their bodies to and fro. This they did for about
fifteen minutes. I then went, and taking their leader by the arm requested him to desist and
sit down and sing in a rational manner. I told him also that it was a heathenish way to worship
and disgraceful to themselves, the race, and the Christian name. In that instance they broke
up their ring; but would not sit down, and walked sullenly away. After the sermon in the
afternoon, having another opportunity of speaking alone to this young leader of the singing
and clapping ring, he said: “Sinners won't get converted unless there is a ring.” Said I: “You
might sing till you fell down dead, and nothing but the Spirit of God and the word of God can
convert sinners.” He replied, “The Spirit of God works upon people in different ways. At
camp-meeting there must be a ring here, a ring there, a ring over yonder or sinners will not
get converted.” This was his idea, and it was also that of many others. These “Bands” I have
had to encounter in many places…To the most thoughtful…I usually succeeded in making the
“Band” disgusting; but by the ignorant masses…it was regarded as the essence of religion.
• the quest for “respectability”: Negro spirituals and shouts. Were
religious traditions such as spirituals and shouts a sign of a
"degraded tradition"?
• criticisms of (and bans of) the shout and spirituals: excessive spirituality &
physicality of ecstatic worship: Henry M. Turner, an AME preacher/politician,
describing the practices on Roanoke Island in 1865: “Hell fire, brimstone,
damnation, black smoke, hot lead, &c., appeared to be presented by the
speaker as man’s highest incentive to serve God, while the milder and more
powerful message of Jesus was thoughtlessly passed by. Let a person get a
little animated, fall down and roll over awhile, kick a few shins, crawl under a
dozen benches, spring upon his feet…then squeal and kiss (or buss) around for
awhile, and the work is done.”
• lack of theological sophistication: William Wells Brown, an African American
novelist: “it will be difficult…to erase from the mind of the negro of the South
the prevailing idea that outward demonstrations, such as, shouting, the loud
‘amen,’ and the most boisterous noise in prayer, are not necessary adjuncts to
• link to African and slave past: Robert Russa Moton, Booker T. Washington’s
successor at the Tuskegee Institute, recalling his disappointment at hearing
spirituals at his first Sunday night prayer service at the Hampton Normal and
Agricultural Institute in 1885: “I had come to school to learn to do things
differently; to sing, to speak, and to use the language, and of course, the
music, not of coloured people but of white people” (Lawrence Levine, Black
Culture and Black Consciousness, 162)
transformation of spirituals:
• WEB DuBois, "Of the Sorrow Songs," praises spirituals in The Souls of Black Folk: DuBois
paired Negro spirituals with European verse to suggest the “creative parity” of the races
(Lewis, 278) in defiance of the “cultural hierarchy” of the period. DuBois’ other message: to
understand the freedom of the white race, one needed to understand the suffering of the
black race. African Americans’ double consciousness—the idea that their history would
always set them apart—enabled African Americans to see American society in a clearer,
more morally valid way. This challenged Anglo-Saxon Protestants who viewed themselves as
guardians of what it meant to be an American.
• Making spirituals “respectable”: Fisk Jubilee Singers (established 1872), “Roll Jordan
Roll”— 1912. the process of moving them to white concert-hall audiences (rather than
black praise houses) meant that they were adjusted into “concretized and Europeanized art
songs.” The voices were smoothed, the grammar altered, the tone made “proper.” The
college students went along with it—they did not want to be considered quaint or
backwards. After WWI, black intelligentsia became proud of spirituals; and, after a fight,
black churches began to accept spirituals into their services and special programs; key for
the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Black folk, however, never lost faith in
the spirituals, but they adapted them to new circumstances.
» Example: “We Shall Overcome” originally a hymn adapted from a spiritual (lyrics from an AME
minister, “I’ll be alright someday,” matched to a spiritual referred to as “Many Thousands Gone”-noted by Thomas Wentworth Higginson in his diary Atlantic June 1867 song 35); adapted by
striking workers shortly after WWII, and eventually adapted by the Highlander Folk School. Phrase
used by MLK in mid-1960s; LBJ when he appeared before Congress to urge the passage of the Civil
Rights Act
E. rise of the “sanctified church”: Holiness & Pentecostal
• definition & affiliated churches
• originated in the Holiness movement in the North, but flourished
in the rural South as Pentecostalism. Believers wanted to restore
characteristics of “primitive” church. After conversion, Holiness
sought a “second blessing,” which they referred to as
“sanctification,” when the Holy Spirit would purify the soul
(Harvey, 127). During the early 20th century, Pentecostalism
added more evidence of God’s spirit: speaking in tongues became
evidence of a “third blessing” (after conversion and sanctification)
• characteristics: democratic bonds, female leadership, interracial
tradition into 1920s, strict moral code (no jewelry, tobacco, or
alcohol), enthusiastic worship style that included spirit possession,
intense emotionality that included “shouting” of participants,
speaking in tongues, intense sermons, and testaments regarding
• Churches: Church of God in Christ (est. by Charles H. Mason in
1895), Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, Azusa Street (1906);
eventually in 1910s separate white denominations such as
Assemblies of God and Pentecostal Holiness Church.
description of practices & traditions
– interracial worship. William Bartleman, a white participant in services, described the musical
services led by Lucy Farrow, an African American, at Azusa: “[Farrow] walked across the room
and went over to the piano and started to play…And then all at once she broke out in singing
in a language that I could not understand…And then I recognized that it was like that other
colored[ed] lady speaking in tongues. And then I recognized that she must be speaking in
tongues. And when she started singing in tongues and accompanying herself on the piano, and
it all seemed to be so harmonious and beautiful, we became tremendously interested in the
phenomenon. And we noticed that those who were down on their knees, praying, begun
speaking in other tongues. And that was my first introduction in Pentecost…nobody trying to
urge them on something, it was just simply God opening the windows of heaven and throwing
down upon them, the blessings that they themselves could not contain.” source: William
Bartleman, as cited in Paul Harvey, Freedom's Coming, p. 132.
– practices. In 1934, while employed for the Federal Works Project, Zora Neale Hurston wrote
about the worship practices of sanctified churches: “there is always something that
approaches dancing—in fact, is dancing—in such a ceremony. So the congregation is restored
to its primitive altars under the new name of Christ. Then there is the expression known as
“shouting,” which is nothing more than a continuation of the African “possession” by the gods.
The gods possess the body of the worshiper and he or she is supposed to know nothing of
their actions until the god decamps. This is still prevalent in most Negro Protestant churches
and is universal in the sanctified churches. They protest against the more highbrow churches'
efforts to stop it. It must be noted that the sermon in these churches is not the set thing that it
is in other Protestant churches. It is loose and formless and is in reality merely a framework
upon which to hang more songs. Every opportunity to introduce a new rhythm is eagerly
seized upon. The whole movement of the sanctified church is a rebirth of song-making!….
These songs by their very beauty cross over from the little storefronts and the like occupied by
the “saints” to the larger and more fashionable congregations and from there to the great
world. These more conscious churchgoers, despising these humble tune-makers as they do,
always resist these songs as long as possible, but finally succumb to their charm.” source: Zora
Neale Hurston, "The Sanctified Church," Go Gator and Muddy the Water, p.96
Part II: Religion & the Great Migration
A. the Great Migration
Violence in South
job opportunities in the North, especially during WWI; jobs
available usually only unskilled
Word-of-mouth about opportunities via family members &
publications such as the Chicago Defender
numbers & destinations (next slide)
• First Great Migration:
– 1/10 of AfAms lived in North in 1900 (2% of population)
– according to the US Census, the black population of North increased
by ~450,000 between 1910 & 1920. Ultimately, over 1.5 African
Americans moved North in this period.
– concentration in cities like New York, Chicago; link to RR routes
• Second Great Migration was 1940-1970
– approximately 5 million moved west as well as north
destinations of migrants during the
First Great Migration (1910-1920)
Jacob Lawrence, The Migration of the Negro, panel 1, 1940-41.
Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. (30.5 x 45.7 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
B. Life in the North
Migrants: from rural folk to urban
– migration as a divine event
• Rev. CM Tanner of Allen Temple
AME in Atlanta saw a “Second
Exodus”: “The scripture is being
fulfilled every day in our very
sight, and it is certainly the
intention of divine providence to
make our people in this
movement profit by it…”
– Movement
• For a population whose movements
had been strictly curtailed by black
codes and repressive law enforcement
regimes, migration represented a new
represented a new phase in
geographic mobility & freedom
(Grossman, 19)
• Importance of trains
source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints
Division. The Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago (1922).
Life in the North (cont’d)
Organizations & jobs—efforts of longer-tenured residents to protect respectability by instructing recent arrivals in manners.
– Chicago Defender
144). Preached industriousness, punctuality, good behavior in an attempt to urbanize migrants.
– Churches—in some instances, ministers followed congregation North. Respectable churches initially welcomed new
arrivals, but they frowned upon their practices.
– (below) source: Arthur and Graham Aldis papers at U of IL at Chicago library, as cited in James Grossman, A Chance to
Make Good, p.113.
emergence of an urban African American culture
– Harlem Renaissance
• music, literature, and sports, represented a new urban
• celebrated the “New Negro,” an expression of racial
pride connected to urban life
• (below) NAACP march in Harlem protesting lynchings in
the south; (right) Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life
(est. 1923)
“Race records”: rise of consumer culture exemplified by the
popularity of records among the African American market after 1920
• labels included OKeh, Paramount, and Columbia
• Gospel blues and “secular” blues recorded at the same
time and advertised in the same spaces.
C. Religion in the North: control of practices
and institutions
traditions in the North
Theology & organization of Black denominations:
National Baptist Convention (Baptists), African
Methodist Episcopalian
theological fundamentalists, with a tendency to
focus on salvation rather than on changes to
economic and political structures of American
emphasis on personal piety
institutional programs included music director, boys
& girls clubs, athletics, a literary society
educated clergy; ban on “holy dancing” (dancing
without “crossed feet” okay in Baptist churches);
more restrained worship style than sanctified
according to historian Michael Harris, many
northern black congregations preferred the hymnsinging practices of white churches. They believed
that “black progress was to be undertaken without
regard to black cultural heritage. Progress,
therefore, was measured in terms of the virtual
annihilation of as many vestiges of black worship
customs as possible” (110).
Sunday school at East Calvary Methodist
Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, 1918.
D. Four traditions brought from the South. All
eventually became important to northern
traditions, including mainline churches.
– preaching
– forms of prayer
– musical preferences
– shouting tradition
E. Competition in the religious marketplace
• the example of Harlem
• consumer marketplace
• storefront churches (mostly Pentecostal/
• other urban spiritual traditions
• jackleg preachers
• Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and
• Nation of Islam
• we’ll focus on the combination of the consumer
marketplace and storefront churches
The challenge of the consumer marketplace
– gospel records. From 1927-1930, between onethird and one-quarter of releases were gospel.
• gospel quartets that sang spirituals--70 records of this
type issued in 1927 (Recording the Blues, p.38)
• sermons—first recorded around 1925-1926. Reverend
JM Gates was discovered by Columbia agents in Atlanta.
• gospel songs by “itinerant guitar-playing evangelists”
(Recording the Blues, 44).
• We’ll listen to examples in a few minutes.
source: Chicago Defender, 28 May 1927
Source: Chicago Defender, 23 July 1927
amalgamated sounds: the challenge posed by storefront churches
• What were storefront churches?
– often small groups that transplanted a congregation, preacher with prayer group that rented
new space to invite newcomers. These churches were notable for their working-class
membership, their independence from mainline denominations, institutional instability over
time, the lack of formal theological training for clergy, the large proportion of female
membership, and proclivity for Pentecostal ritual and Holiness doctrine (review: healings,
speaking in tongues, shouting associated with South, emphasis on individual sinfulness rather
than institutional growth or even stability). These churches were criticized by middle-class
African Americans for their failure to be sufficiently “race conscious,” but they ultimately altered
the worship practices of the urban church
– “amalgamated sounds” first prominent in Holiness sects b/c they were less concerned with
respectability, banning the shout, discouraging enthusiastic religion, or adapting mainline songs.
In fact, they used Psalm 150 as justification for using “all instruments” to praise god (Wald, 18).
Use of ragtime, blues, jazz: singing accompanied by hand clapping, drums, tambourines, guitars,
horns, basses, piano. These rural traditions were brought to the North and, in fact, thrived in
the new urban environment.
– Growth—Holiness churches in Chicago grew from 20 in 1919 to 56 in 1928 (Wald, 17)
– overlap between sacred/secular; competition among churches look for influence from "secular"
songs, "secular" instrumentation and vocal techniques, and themes that relate to current
Descriptions of storefront/sanctified worship services
Langston Hughes recalled a Sanctified sermon that he witnessed as a teenager: “I was mesmerized by the highly
musical sermons screamed, shouted, and intoned from the pulpits by ministers just out of the South, come North to
save souls. Some of them, I thought, easily could have been great actors. I was particularly entranced by one who, in
depicting the climb of Christ to Calvary, ascended first to the piano stool, then stepped on the keyboard and finally
stood on top of the piano depicting Christ on Calvary. There he unfolded most movingly the story of the Crucifixion—
and nobody laughed. The music and drama of these less formal Negro churches early took hold of me, moved me
and thrilled me—so much so that to this day I do not really enjoy churches where ministers read their sermons from
paper and choirs sing to the beat of a conductor’s baton.”
in 1921, the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper, ran an article that chastised new migrants for having
services in private homes: “Prayer meetings are very proper when held in churches. These religious enthusiasts do
not seem to realize that residential neighborhoods are liable to have people living there who do not share with them
in their demonstrative manifestations of religious devotion. Loud and noisy declamations and moans and groans
from sisters and brothers until a late hour in the night are not only annoying but an unmistakable nuisance, which
should not only be discontinued, but if necessary, prohibited… Another religious evil is the large number of so-called
missions presided over by self-appointed missionaries, who prey upon the public in the guise of religious piety
instead of earning their living by honest labor. In addition to these we have a large number of street corner preachers
whose religious enthusiasm is measured by the number of dollars they can fleece out of a confiding public. Our
regularly ordained clergy, should for their own sake, as well as for the good of the community, take the lead in a
movement to crush out these questionable practices.”
Mahalia Jackson described the Sanctified church next to her family’s house in her native New Orleans: “Those people
had no choir and organ. They used the drum, the cymbal, the tambourine, and the steel triangle. Everybody in there
sang, and they clapped and stomped their feet and sang with their whole bodies. They had a beat, a powerful beat, a
rhythm we held on to from slavery days, and their music was so strong and expressive it used to bring the tears to my
eyes. I believe the blues and jazz and even the rock and roll stuff got their beat from the Sanctified church. We
Baptists sang sweet, and we had the long and short meter on beautiful songs like ‘‘Amazing Grace, How Sweet It
Sounds’’ [sic], but when those Holiness people tore into ‘‘I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me Up!’’ they came out with real
jubilation. (Jackson with Wylie, 32-3)”
Langston Hughes recalled the music of Sanctified worship services that he witnessed as a teenager: “Gospel music
began in the poorest of the poor Negro churches. The richer more genteel of churches would brook no shaking of
tambourines nor shouting of the spirituals. They preferred the refined Dett or Burleigh arrangements, if they sang
spirituals at all. Many of their choir members could read music. In the poorer store front churches almost nobody
read music, and the pianist or organist usually played by ear. Their spontaneous group arrangements always seemed
more exciting to me than the arrangements bought in music stores.”
Storefront church, Chicago 1941
Edwin Rosskam
source: LC-DIG-fsa-8a15868.
Prentiss Taylor, "Assembly Church"
source: Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-6592 )
A sampling of Sanctified and Blues Sounds
audio clip: Rev. AW Nix, “Black Diamond Express to Hell, Pt. 1” (1927, Chicago)— a Baptist minister;
reported to have inspired Thomas Dorsey (Oliver, 150)]. “The Power in Jehovah's Quiver.” Difference
from live sermon: need to shorten it to 3 minutes (estimates of actual length of sermons vary). Themes
often revolved around biblical figures like Noah and Job; themes from Revelation. Formulaic approach
to sermons—a) chosen Biblical text announced by preacher b) quotation c) topic d) speaking tone
followed by singing ) toward end shorter sentences f) audience response (Oliver, 153)
audio clip: Elder Richard Bryant’s Sanctified Singers, “Come Over Here” (1928)—Church of God in Christ,
based in Mississippi but recorded in Memphis. Jug band component with harmonica, guitar, mandolin,
jug, washboard; “relaxed, ragged and remarkably spontaneous singing” resembles a Holiness service.
This song combined a version of a popular gospel song known as Ananias and a song that would become
a jazz song, “Lord, Lord, He Sure is Good To Me” (Oliver, 173)
audio clip: Arizona Dranes, “It’s All Right Now.” (1926). Arizona Dranes, a member of COGIC, born in
Texas in 1894; arrived in Chicago with a note from her hometown preacher pinned on her sweater
(invented Sanctified piano style). This song was initially written by Benjamin Franklin Butts in 1909, and
was in print in Gospel Hymns in 1925 (Oliver, 188). Her piano style was a mixture of ragtime and
barrelhouse technique (Oliver, 189); her pastor, FW McGee, had several popular sermons.
audio clip: Blind Lemon Jefferson, “All I Want is that Pure Religion” (1926)—first recordings were
religious songs like the one here, but became truly famous on the blues scene. One advertisement,
shown earlier, marketed Blind Lemon under his blues name and marketed his religious recordings under
“Deacon L.J. Bates”
audio clip: Blind Roosevelt Graves and Brother, “Woke Up this Morning (with My Mind on Jesus),
Mississippi (1936)--Pentecostal—listen for blues elements; guitar, tambourine
F. “Cultural Southernizing” of black churches in northern cities: the rise of
“gospel blues” via the pressure of the religious marketplace
• The rise of gospel blues
– Thomas Dorsey: born in Georgia, Dorsey was a piano accompanist for
blueswoman Ma Rainey. Dorsey joined Pilgrim Baptist in Chicago in 1921 and
became director of gospel chorus in 1930, where he added elements of blues
to gospel hymns to emphasize emotional experience during the service
– Folk practices included spirituals performed by group; gospel, on the other
hand, was professionalized music that distanced performer and audience, but
it still valued improvisation.
– During the 1930s, gospel song replaced spirituals in importance to black
religious music (though spirituals were important to the civil rights
movement). The songs emphasized God as immediate, intimate, living
presence: “I am Walking with My Jesus,” “I had a talk with Jesus,” I know God,”
(174)—hope, affirmation
• audio clip: Thomas A. Dorsey, “If You See my Savior” (1932)-gospel songs influenced by
• Audio clip: Mahalia Jackson, a member of Greater Salem Baptist Church in Chicago,
“Amazing Grace” (1947) Melody from “New Britain,” text by John Newton in 1789; paired
together by William Walker in 1844. Not as popular when MJ recorded it.
Part III: Toward a secular style? From Gospel to Soul
Religion & popular music: gospel, r&b, and soul
• infusion of “gospel” into the secular realm
• music clip—Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “Strange
Things Happening Every Day” (1944). Born in
Arkansas; raised in COGIC in Chicago. First
crossover artist from sacred to secular audience:
often described as a “religious shouter” or a
“Holy Roller singer.”
• Time allowing: video clip of Sister Rosetta
Tharpe, “Down by the Riverside [originally
recorded by Tharpe in 1944 in a performance
that is in the National Recording Registry;
performed here on a 1962 Gospel tv show]
• Discomfort from two places
– Not just those who objected to entry of blues-style
music into worship practices;
– also early objections to using Pentecostal music for
secular entertainment: is it okay to share with white
audiences? Is it okay to use talent for something
other than worship? Many younger artists saw no
B. the commodification of gospel music
• Changes in popular music 1950-1960
– the most popular: rock’n’roll singers like Chuck Berry & Elvis
– second most popular: gospel-influenced singers like Sam Cooke and
Ray Charles: they shared a sound & style (dubbed “soul style”) that
borrowed from church singers who gave the impression that their
voices were controlled or affected by emotions
• Impact on the church after WWII
– sociologists St Clair Drake and Horace Cayton: “In order to meet the
competition of Chicago’s night life, [some churches] have evolved the
custom of giving ‘special programs’ in addition to, or instead of,
preaching. These take the forms of dramas, musical extravaganzas, or
occasional movies. These Sunday night services are usually
entertaining enough to appeal to a circle far wider than the
membership of the church. In fact, a great deal of inter-church visiting
takes place without regard to denominational lines and many persons
will attend services of this type who make no claim to being
religious…They attend church, they say, because they ‘like good
singing’ and ‘good speaking’, or because the services are ‘restful and
Example: Sam Cooke
– Family background & early career
• Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1931
• Father was a minister in the Church of
Christ (Holiness); moved family to
Chicago & took over Christ Temple
• Performed as a child with his siblings &
as a teen with the Highway QCs
• Debuted with the Soul Stirrers in 1950
– Characteristics: emotive gospel style,
enunciation, story-telling
– Sample songs:
• "Jesus Gave Me Water" (with The Soul
Stirrers) (1950)
• “Touch the Hem of his Garment” (1956)
• “Twistin’ the Night Away” (1961)
• “A Change is Gonna Come” (1963)
C. Toward a “soul” style
• defining “soul.” Historian Brian Ward’s describes the influence of
gospel on soul artists (Just My Soul Responding, p.184):
– use of “tumbling gospel triplets”
– use of call and response instrumental and vocal patterns—“vocal
freedom” for expressing emotion and experience
– use of tambourines and handclaps
– use of bass, drum, piano, guitar, and horns
• Example: Ray Charles
– Songs:
• “This Little Girl of Mine” (1956) = “This little light of mine”
• “What'd I say” (1959)
D. Soul music & secularization
• The rise of soul’s popularity in the African American community
• James Brown—
– audio clip: “[Say it Loud] I’m Black and Proud” (1968):
• soul music as evidence of secularization in black life?
Selected sources
Laurie Maffly-Kipp, “African American Religion” This website offers
an overview, primary sources, and a discussion guide for teachers.
Monographs: *
• Ira Berlin, The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations (2010)
• Peter Guralnick, Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke (2005)
• Paul Harvey, Freedom’s Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War
to the Civil Rights Era (2007)
• Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist
Church 1880-1920 (1993)
• Lawrence Levine, Black Culture & Black Consciousness (1977)
• Paul Oliver, Songsters and Saints: Vocal Traditions on Race Records(1984)
• Milton C. Sernett, Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration
• Gayle Wald, Shout, Sister, Shout: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe
• Brian Ward, Just My Soul Responding (1998)
* This is only a partial bibliography. If there’s a specific citation or section that interests you, please
contact you and I will get you a citation.

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