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Singing The Glory Down

Singing The Glory Down: Amateur Gospel Music in South Central Kentucky, 1900-1990

William Lynwood Montell
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Singing The Glory Down
    Book Description:

    InSinging the Glory Down, William Lynwood Montell contributes to a fuller understanding of twentieth-century American culture by examining the complex relationships between gospel music and the culture of the nineteen-county study area in which this music has flourished for a hundred years. He has recorded the memories and feelings of those who were young while the movement gathered steam and who remember it at its high point, and stories about those who have passed over that river about which they loved to sing.

    In the early 1900s, a singing school or gospel convention was a major social event that enticed people to walk for miles to learn to sing or to hear someone who already had. The shape-note teachers of those days conducted days or even weeks of nightly practice, which culminated in a performance that confirmed the teacher's skill. Quartet music originated in these settings.

    Today, some area quartets still sound much like those early groups; others teach themselves to sing by imitating their favorite professional gospel ensembles.They travel every weekend in buses emblazoned with the names of their groups, with tapes and albums to sell. Through all the changes, the four-part southern harmony of Kentucky gospel music has remained the same.

    In the words of these performers, through letters, diaries, and interviews, Montell details the attitudes and joys of those involved most deeply in the gospel music scene. He also brings the reader into their personal relationships, their professional jealousies, and their struggles to keep alive the music they love.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5731-3
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    To most people, the term “gospel music” conjures up images of groups of black professionals who travel the concert circuit from one big city to another, and the music genre they sing. The stereotype prevails, whether the performers are black or white, that gospel music is a form of big business that utilizes radio and television broadcasts to reach and cultivate the interest of people who are easy touches for sales promotions. But not all gospel music is performed by professionals for monetary gain. As folklorist Burt Feintuch observes, “Gospel music thrives in a number of settings, where it is...

    (pp. 9-29)

    Georgie Childress stood up, looked out over the twenty-five singers and ten or so visitors chatting in the small, rural church sanctuary in northern Edmonson County. He cleared his throat and announced that it was time for the singing to begin.

    The singers moved quickly to the altar area, picked up their songbooks, and formed a closed circle in which they grouped themselves according to their respective vocal parts. In clockwise order were the sopranos, made up of both men and women; the altos; the tenors; and the bass vocalists, who stood with their backs to the audience. David Taylor,...

    (pp. 30-51)

    Shape-note singing schools conducted during the first four decades of the twentieth century were directly responsible for significant improvement in the quality of congregational singing across south central Kentucky, both in the small-town churches and the sister institutions that dotted the adjacent rural landscape. There were three direct descendants of those golden years of four-part harmony, all of which were introduced as concomitants of congregational singing. The first of these was church choir performances called “singings,” held in area churches and rotated regularly among participating congregations. The second natural offspring of the singing schools was the county-wide singing conventions that...

    (pp. 52-72)

    The gospel quartet movement came to south central Kentucky early in the twentieth century like a breeze that blew softly across an everrising current of congregational and choir singing. Both forms of religious music were to become increasingly vigorous over the next four decades, with large group singing maintaining an edge in popularity because of the number of musically-trained persons who could and did participate. During this same period of growth, quartet music and choral singing were never in competition, as both of them were outgrowths of the shape-note schools that left an indelible imprint on area religious life. Strong...

    (pp. 73-92)

    The onset of the 1940s brought slightly improved economic conditions to south central Kentucky. Better roads were being built and this meant newer cars and pick-up trucks, at least until the advent of World War II brought the manufacture of civilian vehicles to a sudden halt. Counties began the long, laborious process of consolidating rural schools and providing bus service for students who had until then walked up to two miles each way to and from school. Churches retained strict adherence to biblical teachings and they still treasured good congregational singing—quality singing that was to lose its luster by...

    (pp. 93-115)

    The period from 1950 to 1990 is one in which gospel music groups in south central Kentucky were spawned in abundance. There were all-male groups, all-female groups, mixed groups, and groups whose singers were of one sex with musicians of the opposite sex. Gender distinctions were generally of no consequence to these gospel music performers but such groupings help to describe them. The 1950s and 1960s were particularly productive years for gospel music, both in terms of new groups organized in the study area and in the overall advancement of gospel music around the country. When the 1950s began, eighty-seven...

    (pp. 116-137)

    The year 1970 marks the beginning of the modern era in gospel music in south central Kentucky. One cannot date it from the 1960s even though some area groups issued LP albums early in that decade. These albums were a sure indication of changing times; however, the sounds of the singers and their musical accompaniment on those early albums were not unlike the older sounds of gospel music.

    Even though rock and roll music had been around since the mid-1950s and had influenced the singing styles of some of the local gospel groups, the sound of a full set of...

    (pp. 138-156)

    We have considered gospel music groups in terms of vocal styles and musical accompaniment and have identified certain ensembles and singers by name. No attempt has been made, however, to look at individual singers in terms of their reasons for singing or to illuminate the nature of their relationship with other persons in the group. Certain factors may cause a singer (the term is used in this chapter to denote musicians also) to stay with the same group for a number of years or, for that matter, to leave one group and affiliate with another. And, as with individuals, issues...

    (pp. 157-179)

    The focus of this chapter is on performance aspects at gospel music events and on the lyric content of the songs used in this connection.¹ While gospel singings are conducted in a myriad of places, churches are the most common staging grounds. Whether located in rural areas or in the county seat towns, host churches are typically more informal than their “uptown” neighbors, such as the First Baptist, First United Methodist, and similar other churches located in larger towns and cities, which are known for tightly programmed, formal religious services. Denominational affiliation in and of itself is not really a...

    (pp. 180-198)

    “We were just a family that went around singing.” Those words uttered by Junior Selvidge of Wayne County are filled with meaning for numerous persons in south central Kentucky who now are or once were part of family singing ensembles. Like Selvidge, these people know how important family groups are to gospel music and, conversely, how meaningful gospel music is to family singing units. By family group, I refer here to any singing ensemble that utilizes the services of at least three vocalists (two in the cases of trios) from the same family. Although many gospel music performers work outside...

    (pp. 199-202)

    Gospel music developed in south central Kentucky at the beginning of the twentieth century within the framework of the seven-note musical system established primarily by and for singers in rural and small town settings. Teachers taught this much-needed, much-loved music in shape-note music schools whose fundamental goal was to stimulate and promote four-part harmony congregational singing. Local singing conventions originated beginning around 1915 in response to quality congregational singing and heightened public interest in shape-note music.

    Both the schools and conventions were venerated institutions that flourished until the 1940s only to decline rapidly following World War II. Their demise can...

  15. APPENDIX A: South Central Kentucky Singing Groups
    (pp. 203-225)
  16. APPENDIX B: South Central Kentucky Shape-Note Teachers
    (pp. 226-228)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 229-237)
    (pp. 238-243)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 244-250)