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Then Sings My Soul

Then Sings My Soul: The Culture of Southern Gospel Music

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Then Sings My Soul
    Book Description:

    In this ambitious book on southern gospel music, Douglas Harrison reexamines the music's historical emergence and its function as a modern cultural phenomenon. Rather than seeing the music as a single rhetoric focusing on the afterlife as compensation for worldly sacrifice, Harrison presents southern gospel as a network of interconnected messages that evangelical Christians use to make individual sense of both Protestant theological doctrines and their own lived experiences. Harrison explores how listeners and consumers of southern gospel integrate its lyrics and music into their own religious experience, building up individual--and potentially subversive--meanings beneath a surface of evangelical consensus._x000B__x000B_Reassessing the contributions of such figures as Aldine Kieffer, James D. Vaughan, and Bill and Gloria Gaither, Then Sings My Soul traces an alternative history of southern gospel in the twentieth century, one that emphasizes the music's interaction with broader shifts in American life beyond the narrow confines of southern gospel's borders. Harrison's discussion includes the "gay-gospel paradox"--the experience of non-heterosexuals in gospel music--as emblematic of fundamentalism's conflict with the postmodern world.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09409-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: A Native Informant’s Report from the Field
    (pp. 1-24)

    In July 2000, New York Times writer R. W. Apple Jr. went to Nashville to write about his experience there in a travel piece for the newspaper. For the scholar of culture, the report is perhaps most interesting for a moment of acute discomfort Apple had while attending a performance at the Grand Ole Opry. He and his travel companion, he wrote, “realized what aliens we were in this culture when the crowd lustily cheered an explicitly sexist, rabidly homophobic, stunningly anti-government ditty called ‘We Want America Back.’”¹ Apple was hearing what was at the time a chart-topping song performed...

  5. 1. Glory Bumps; or, The Psychodynamics of the Southern Gospel Experience
    (pp. 25-49)

    Approaching southern gospel for the first time, listeners often comment on the apparent lyrical and intellectual poverty of the music. Indeed, for someone who has never been rendered speechless by the beauty of a gospel melody or heard—really felt—the “sound of light” pouring from a stage, this music can seem astoundingly shallow and one-dimensional. Southern gospel is no more likely to drift into lyrical vapidity than most American popular music.¹ But while we have come to expect banalities and clichés from so many pop, rock, and country lyrics about the heart constantly lusting, loving, and being broken, it...

  6. 2. Nostalgia, Modernity, and the Reconstruction Roots of Southern Gospel
    (pp. 50-79)

    By the time Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House in early April 1865, Aldine S. Kieffer had been a Confederate prisoner of war at Fort Delaware for almost a year.¹ For ordinary Confederate conscripts, Lee’s surrender was a humiliating defeat. For most POWs, it was also effectively an additional sentence of anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Throughout April and into May, the U.S. government focused on capturing the Confederacy’s military leadership and liberating Union POWs from southern prisons.² Releasing Confederate prisoners was not a high priority. Yet Kieffer, a twenty-four-year-old farm boy from central Missouri...

  7. 3. The Rise of “Southern” Gospel Music and the Compensations of History
    (pp. 80-109)

    Within current scholarship about southern gospel music, popular writing about the tradition, and the industry’s own representations of itself and its past, no single figure enjoys the prominence and veneration accorded to James D. Vaughan. A songwriter and publisher, Vaughan studied at Ruebush-Kieffer’s Virginia Normal School in the early 1880s. By the 1920s, Vaughan had built his own company, Vaughan Music, into shape-note gospel’s dominant publishing house. In the 1940s, Vaughan was “claiming over 7,000,000 copies of its various books in use throughout the South.”¹ In Close Harmony, the authoritative scholarly history of southern gospel, James Goff christens Vaughan the...

  8. 4. The Gaitherization of Contemporary Southern Gospel
    (pp. 110-136)

    Within the overlapping worlds of gospel music, contemporary Christian entertainment, and multimedia televangelism in America, the long-standing success of the Bill and Gloria Gaither Homecoming Friends franchise has been a fact of professional life for almost a generation—a ubiquitous presence to compete with, admire, envy, or (when invited) join. What started as a happenstance gathering of “old-timers” from the heyday of midcentury southern gospel music at the Master’s Touch studio in Nashville, Tennessee, in February 1991, has since become an institution in American evangelical life.¹

    Today, Homecoming exists as both an annual concert tour and a video series. Exact...

  9. 5. Southern Gospel in the Key of Queer
    (pp. 137-162)

    In most quarters of the southern gospel music industry, it is axiomatic that behind every gospel song, there is a gay man somewhere. But then again, I would say that. I am, after all, what I have come to think and write about as a southern gospel sissy: a gay man who loves gospel music not despite the fact that he is gay but, as I argue in this chapter, because he is a queer, a misfit, a fag, a homo, a sodomite, or, most often, a sinner. There are many of us out there. Enough, at any rate, that...

  10. Epilogue: The Soul’s Best Song
    (pp. 163-170)

    Throughout this book, I have treated southern gospel music as a tool for implicitly but meaningfully expressing unorthodox experience within an orthodox culture. Encounters with this music create a safe space in which to try to reconcile the evangelical identity to those aspects of the self that orthodoxy stigmatizes as variant, subversive, or sinful. With this effort to queer southern gospel—in which “queer” encompasses not just explicitly sexualized expresses of identity but a range of aberrancy as judged by conservative evangelicalism—I have attempted to demonstrate how abnormal subjectivity exists within the context of, and is inextricably entangled with,...

  11. Appendix A: Songs Referenced
    (pp. 171-174)
  12. Appendix B: Methods and Preliminary Findings of a Survey of Attitudes and Beliefs about Southern Gospel Music
    (pp. 175-180)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 181-216)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-228)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-237)