The songbooks in Sounding Spirit cross racial and denominational demarcations in order to illuminate the historical intersections between genres, geographies, and demographies often represented as discrete and isolated. The editing of three of the five volumes planned for the initiative are already underway. Volumes were chosen based upon
- The considerable attention each has received from scholars in a range of disciplines;
- The variety of genres included in the collection’s scope;
- Each volume’s association with a present-day community of practice outside the academy which will comprise an additional audience for the digital and print volumes; and
- Each volume’s alignment with the expertise of a scholarly editor well-positioned to take on an ambitious project.
Jubilee Songs (1872), Edited by Sandra Jean Graham
Jubilee Songs (1872) is the first songbook featuring the arrangements of twenty-three spirituals sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Rushed into print after the Nashville-based touring group from Fisk University gained acclaim for their performances of arrangements of black spirituals, Jubilee Songs raised funds for the struggling institution and helped transform a black cultural practice into an international sensation. By the early twentieth century, spirituals formed a major stream of American folk music, due in no small part to the visibility of the Fisk Jubilee singers and this volume. As originally published, the thirty-eight-page Jubilee Songs pairs these songs with a short introduction and a concluding statement on the music’s religious significance. Near-annual editions sold over 130,000 copies into the early twentieth century. Its solo and four-part a cappella settings helped popularize songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Roll, Jordan, Roll,” and “Go Down, Moses.”
Selected for inclusion in Sounding Spirit because of its status as a watershed publication marking the transition of spirituals from oral tradition to a print-based, mass cultural phenomenon, Jubilee Songs signals a key turn in southern sacred music. Foundational to the American popular music landscape, spirituals, like lined-out hymn singing, emerged as a form of black cultural expression in the miscegenated context of Protestant worship in the antebellum South. The publication of Jubilee Songs as a critical digital and print edition will grant musicologists, scholars of religious studies, folklorists, cultural historians, and African Americanists access to a towering marker of this historical moment. As the first songbook of the most popular jubilee choir, Jubilee Songs also has a potential audience among choirs and ensembles who continue to perform arrangements of spirituals. Editorial board member Sandra Jean Graham, author of Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry (University of Illinois Press, 2018), will serve as volume editor.
Class, Choir, and Congregation (1888), Edited by Kevin D. Kehrberg and Stephen Shearon
Class, Choir, and Congregation (1888) is the preeminent tunebook marking the transition from the dispersed-harmony shape-note books of the first half of the nineteenth century toward the annual gospel songbooks popular in the early decades of the twentieth. Enormously successful upon publication, Class, Choir, and Congregation sold 400,000 copies within its first twenty-five years. The book pairs 277 numbered selections in four-part harmony (written on two musical staves to permit piano or organ accompaniment) with a sizable preface including pedagogical rudiments, musical exercises for students, and additional sentimental part songs. This wide variety of applications contributed to the collection’s vast popularity. The music in Class, Choir, and Congregation includes many examples of the emergent gospel song, a genre that elaborates on the nineteenth-century style of close harmony strophic hymns popular in Sabbath Schools by appending more elaborate choruses with responsorial effects.
Class, Choir, and Congregation’s remarkable editor, A. J. Showalter of Dalton, Georgia, championed gospel music’s radical transformation in form, content, and context. Showalter’s music publishing company sold millions of songbooks and pioneered the softbound, octavo-sized, annual publications of mostly new music that came to characterize twentieth-century gospel singing conventions. Class, Choir, and Congregation, the company’s most successful book, particularly embodies this transition. Initially published in a slightly oblong form redolent of such older nineteenth-century tunebooks as The Sacred Harp, subsequent printings reformatted the collection into the upright, octavo layout of its twentieth-century gospel successors. This and other Showalter publications profoundly influenced the shift of gospel music from a style built around singing schools, convention networks, and music education at “Normal Schools” modeled on northern music institutes to one buoyed by traveling quartets and radio shows that Showalter’s successors James D. Vaughn, Virgil O. Stamps, and Jesse R. Baxter popularized. Baxter studied under Showalter himself and spent his early career managing a branch office of the company in Texas, while Stamps used Showalter’s presses to print his first songbooks.
Class, Choir, and Congregation is also the source of such classic gospel hymns as “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and “One by One We’ll All Be Gathered Home” that have remained popular among white, black, and Native American churches in a variety of denominations and at social gatherings. Class, Choir, and Congregation has a wide potential audience beyond the academy that includes contemporary participants in gospel convention and fan networks, black, white, and Native. Remarkably, despite its historic cultural impact, the book is largely inaccessible today. Likely due to gospel’s association with rural insophisticates, Class, Choir, and Congregation was not widely collected by university libraries. Emory University’s Pitts Theology Library is one of six institutions housing a copy. Kevin D. Kehrberg, assistant professor of music at Warren Wilson College, author of a forthcoming book on gospel composer Albert E. Brumley, and a scholar of Showalter’s work, and editorial board member Stephen Shearon, director of a feature-length documentary on southern gospel conventions, will serve as volume co-editors for Class, Choir, and Congregation.
Original Sacred Harp (1911), Edited by Jesse P. Karlsberg
Original Sacred Harp (1911) was the most widely adopted of competing early-twentieth-century editions of The Sacred Harp, a seminal shape-note tunebook first published in 1844. In the mid- nineteenth century The Sacred Harp was the most commonly found book in southern households aside from the Bible. Edited by an Atlanta-based committee of Sacred Harp singers and prominent New South boosters, Original Sacred Harp pairs nearly all the plain tunes, fuging tunes, anthems, and revival choruses from the nineteenth-century editions of the tunebook in four-part a cappella settings with newly composed songs in hybrid styles. Each of the 578 songs in the book’s 524 pages of music includes a historical note written by lead editor Joseph Stephen James. The book also features twelve pages of introductory material and a twenty-six-page pedagogical “rudiments of music” section. Large, interdenominational black and white singing conventions held across the South promoted Sacred Harp singing as a way of embracing and connecting to the past at the turn of the twentieth century when white southerners sought to memorialize the Civil War and the antebellum period. Original Sacred Harp also embraced modern design, a result of its editors’ desire to make this style relevant to a growing urban population in the modernizing New South. Original Sacred Harp became the centerpiece of a popular singing practice oriented toward participation that persisted despite accelerating changes in music performance and culture.
Shape-note singing’s centrality to musical expression in the miscegenated antebellum southern world justifies Original Sacred Harp’s inclusion in the Sounding Spirit series. The prominence of shape-note research by musicologists, folklorists, and cultural historians; the connections in the volume between music genre, notation system, and bibliographic form; and the intertwined contestations of music, racial segregation, modernization, and political life in its revisers aims and its reception inform Original Sacred Harp’s broad appeal. In addition to a scholarly audience, Original Sacred Harp has a potential audience among the thousands of singers who participate in present-day singings from the book’s successor (The Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition) across the United States and beyond. Series editor-in-chief Karlsberg will serve as volume editor for the annotated digital critical edition of Original Sacred Harp. As editor of the facsimile and author of several articles and a 2015 dissertation on the cultural context of Sacred Harp singing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Karlsberg is well positioned to edit this volume.