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May 30, 2007 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Is there a connection between religion and place in African-American music?

I read an article a while ago about how Whitney Houston or Aretha Franklin's singing style could be traced back to their singing in church when they were young. Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye among others grew up singing in Baptist choirs. The wikipedia entry on Gospel music claims it drew from the Methodist hymnals. Are there differences in Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, or other churches in Memphis, Chicago, Detroit or elsewhere that may account for different strains of Soul, R&B, Gospel, Blues, etc.?
posted by minkll to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't quite answering your question (which is an interesting one btw) but if you're interested in such things I can thoroughly recommend the book 'A Change is Gonna Come' by Craig Werner. I think that blues plays a factor here as well as the natural evolution of music. R&B tends to come out of the blues tradition and Soul comes out of the church (i.e. Gospel which itself owes a lot to the blues but that is seen through the filter of music of praise, i.e. there is more vocal extemporization and less up-tempo-music-for-dancing as is the case in R&B).
posted by ob at 8:30 AM on May 30, 2007

If you can find where the stupid timeline disappeared to on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame site, that will be of assistance. I don't know where it went. It's interactive and offers a bunch of information about specific people, their influences and their backgrounds. So of course it's nowhere to be found on their site at the moment.

Alternately you could contact them. You may get somebody that works there knows a bunch of this and would ramble on for a good hour, giving you information you can't get online as well as sites.

If none of that pulls up anything, get these DVD's/videos from your local library (just plug in your zip code). Very detailed, great music & performances and they have histories of Aretha/Otis & the like. From the performers own accounts as well as other famous musicians.
posted by cashman at 8:32 AM on May 30, 2007

A great, great question to which the answer is probably very sophisticated.

I can say at the very least that I'm aware of a couple of African-American spiritual music traditions that are very unique to place and denomination. The one I'm most familiar with is the Belleville, VA, Church of God and Saints in Christ choir, a group Alan Lomax studied and collected music from. I have had the great good fortune of seeing them perform, and the music was entirely unique, a very distinct form of gospel. If you ever, ever get a chance, see them. It's remarkable.

First, if you have access to JSTOR, I'd recommend you search on + African-American and/or +black +gospel +ethnomusicology. I don't have access, so even though I can uncover several promising journal article titles, I can't read and evaluate them for you. Maybe you have a way to get into JSTOR or live near a university library.

There is a documentary film called "Higher Ground" which I bet would shed some light on how gospel stars were trained in their various home churches.

You could call or e-mail Mellonnee Burnim, who teaches black religious music at the Indiana folklore and ethnomusicology program.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by Miko at 8:41 AM on May 30, 2007

Oops -- I also forgot NPR, which has some excellent in-depth programs on musicology. Try the review of "A History of Gospel Music" to start. This installment of the Honky Tonks, Hymns, and the Blues series is on Thomas Dorsey and the birth of gospel.
posted by Miko at 8:50 AM on May 30, 2007

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