Timeline of African American Music
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Jubilee Singers, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee

Library of Congress
Jubilee Singers Fisk University
We Will Understand It By and By
Sweet Honey in the Rock
The Storm is Passing Over
Denise Brown & The Campbell Brothers
Wade in the Water
Sweet Honey in the Rock
Leave It There
Babbie Mason & Lillie Knauls

Themes

  • Religion/Faith
  • Daily Life

Musical Features

  • Rhythms
  • Call and Response
  • Harmony
  • Hymns
  • Melody
  • Vocals
  • Verse/Refrain

Instruments

  • Organ
  • Piano
  • Voice
It first emerged in conjunction with the 1850s Protestant City-Revival Movement designed to attract the poor and lower-class dwellers of the growing cities.

The term gospel hymn tradition is associated with two distinct American religious contexts. It first emerged in conjunction with the 1850s Protestant City-Revival Movement designed to attract the poor and lower-class dwellers of the growing cities. White songwriters such as Fannie Crosby (1820–1915) and Ira Sankey (1840–1908) of the Moody-Sankey evangelistic team, sought to create songs relevant to the needs of this group with a focus on conversion and salvation. These songs, called gospel hymns, became standard in the hymn books used by both Black and white congregations. In the late 18th and into the 19th century, the charismatic Black Methodist minister Charles Albert Tindley began writing a new gospel hymn style, many written to complement his soul-stirring sermons delivered to his urban Black and later mixed congregations.

Context and History

Pioneering a new gospel hymn style, Charles Tindley introduced texts that centered on the worldly concerns of Black Christians as well as, the joys of afterlife. The verbal language and musical style resonated especially with the poor and struggling Black Christians, who needed encouragement and assurance. The spirited performances of these songs by his congregation, as well as the seven-member all-male Tindley Gospel Singers, reinvigorated the hymn tradition. Tindley’s gospel hymns, the first of which was published in 1901, became the prototype for a composed body of religious music later called gospel, unlike the communal and oral approach associated with the folk spiritual and rural gospel traditions. Examples such as “We Will Understand It Better By and By,” “The Storm is Passing Over,” and “Stand By Me,” became standard gospel hymns for both Blacks and whites in many denominations, as well as repertory staples for contemporary gospel groups like Sweet Honey in the Rock, organized independently of churches.

Charles A. Tindley (1851–1933)Courtesy Tindley Temple, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Musical Features/Performance Style

Charles Tindley’s songs are based on the verse-chorus hymn structure that incorporates the call-and-response form; many utilize the pentatonic scale, and the performance aesthetic leaves room for melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic manipulation. Performers, accompanied by piano and/or organ, bring these songs alive through their personalized interpretation of the notated score.

Lyrics

Tindley took the theme of deliverance through struggle from daily life experiences as well as the rewards of afterlife; white songwriters favored the themes of conversion, salvation, and heaven.

Sweet Honey in the Rock
Charles Tindley
Tindley Gospel Singers
Babbie Mason
Sister Clara Hudmon “The Georgia Peach”
Sweet Honey in the Rock

Bibliography

  1. Jones, Ralf. Charles Albert Tindley: Prince of Preachers. Abingdon Press, 1982.
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The Timeline of African American Music by Portia K. Maultsby, Ph.D. presents the remarkable diversity of African American music, revealing the unique characteristics of each genre and style, from the earliest folk traditions to present-day popular music.

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Jessye Norman

Carnegie Hall’s interactive Timeline of African American Music is dedicated to the loving memory of the late soprano and recitalist Jessye Norman.

© 2008 Richard Termine

Special thanks to Dr. Portia K. Maultsby and to the Advisory Scholars for their commitment and thought-provoking contributions to this resource.

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The Timeline of African American Music has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. The project is also supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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