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To Do This, You Must Know How

To Do This, You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Quartet Tradition

Lynn Abbott
Doug Seroff
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    To Do This, You Must Know How
    Book Description:

    To Do This, You Must Know How traces black vocal music instruction and inspiration from the halls of Fisk University to the mining camps of Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama, and on to Chicago and New Orleans. In the 1870s, the Original Fisk University Jubilee Singers successfully combined Negro spirituals with formal choral music disciplines, and established a permanent bond between spiritual singing and music education. Early in the twentieth century there were countless initiatives in support of black vocal music training conducted on both national and local levels. The surge in black religious quartet singing that occurred in the 1920s owed much to this vocal music education movement. In Bessemer, Alabama, the effect of school music instruction was magnified by the emergence of community-based quartet trainers who translated the spirit and substance of the music education movement for the inhabitants of working-class neighborhoods. These trainers adapted standard musical precepts, traditional folk practices, and popular music conventions to create something new and vital. Bessemer's musical values directly influenced the early development of gospel quartet singing in Chicago and New Orleans through the authority of emigrant trainers whose efforts bear witness to the effectiveness of "trickle down" black music education. A cappella gospel quartets remained prominent well into the 1950s, but by the end of the century the close harmony aesthetic had fallen out of practice, and the community-based trainers who were its champions had virtually disappeared, foreshadowing the end of this remarkable musical tradition.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-915-0
    Subjects: Music, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction “Say Four Come …”
    (pp. 3-9)

    Early-twentieth-century African American sacred harmony singing, spiritual and gospel, was, in a sense, shaped by the interaction of two historical impulses. The first was to perpetuate folk music traditions, a cornerstone of black cultural identity; the second was to master standard Western musical and cultural conventions, the formalizing principles behind artistic harmony singing. Engagement between the two impulses was never more synchronized than in the early decades of the twentieth century. Accordingly, a robust community-based quartet training culture came forth to breathe new life into black religious harmony singing.

    Without basic instruction, it is not easy to arrange voices in...

  5. Chapter One John Work II and the Resurrection of the Negro Spiritual in Nashville
    (pp. 11-112)

    The treasury of African American folk song known as the spirituals arose anonymously from slave cabins and brush arbors and was initially perpetuated as an oral tradition. The Original Fisk Jubilee Singers of Nashville, Tennessee, were first to demonstrate the usefulness of the spirituals, the “genuine jewels we brought from our bondage,” after Emancipation.¹ Their singing tours of 1871 to 1875 provided the funds necessary to sustain Fisk University and to build Jubilee Hall, the first permanent structure erected in the South for the purpose of black higher education. These events established a foundational relationship between spiritual singing and black...

  6. Chapter Two “Time, Harmony, and Articulation”: Quartet Training and the Birmingham Gospel Quartet Style
    (pp. 113-216)

    Jefferson County, Alabama, incorporating the city of Birmingham and the neighboring towns of Bessemer and Fairfield, was a cradle of black gospel quartet singing. Grassroots music pedagogy, presided over by community-based quartet trainers, was the critical factor behind the intense outbreak of religious harmony singing that took place there after World War I. This traditional music instruction was directly connected to modes of formal education practiced in segregated public schools.

    Early in the twentieth century, voice culture was a routine part of primary and secondary school curricula in many parts of the South. In the spirit of John Work II,...

  7. Chapter Three An Alabama Quartet Expert in Chicagoland
    (pp. 217-272)

    For many years Chicago was the capital of African American entertainment commerce. State Street’s legendary vaudeville theater and cabaret district was a haven for the first generation of jazz and blues musicians and composers. Progressive race music educators made their home in the city, and world-famous itinerant jubilee troupes were headquartered there. Choirs and glee clubs proliferated in churches, communities, and workplaces, reflecting black Chicago’s musical and cultural aspirations. An inspired cadre of university and conservatory-trained music instructors reached out to the city’s burgeoning black laboring-class community. Through their efforts the value of vocal music training, and its relevance to...

  8. Chapter Four The “Alabama Style” and the Birth of Gospel Quartet Singing in New Orleans
    (pp. 273-366)

    New Orleans is a universally celebrated musical homeland with a deep but underestimated heritage of African American vocal quartets. For the better part of a century, a cappella quartets thrived in black New Orleans; more prevalent than brass bands, they were also more directly connected to folk music traditions, and more receptive to evolving vernacular fashions and expressions. A period of heightened religious quartet singing began in New Orleans during the early 1930s under the influence of quartet trainers migrating from Alabama, who introduced a dynamic new style of harmonizing that touched off a “quartet fever” in the city’s black...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 367-430)
  10. Indexes
    (pp. 431-468)