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To Do This, You Must Know How

Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Quartet Tradition

Lynn Abbot

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-ix

We started sharing research back in 1980, based on a mutual interest in the African American gospel quartet tradition. Ray Funk was the third member of our original research team. Between the three of us, we located and interviewed hundreds of quartet veterans and spent hundreds of hours reviewing historical...

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Introduction: “Say Four Come . . .”

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pp. 3-10

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...

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Chapter One. John Work II and the Resurrection of the Negro Spiritual in Nashville

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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...

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Chapter Two. “Time, Harmony, and Articulation”: Quartet Training and the Birmingham Gospel Quartet Style

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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...

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Chapter Three. An Alabama Quartet Expert in Chicagoland

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pp. 217-271

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...

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Chapter Four. The “Alabama Style” and the Birth of Gospel Quartet Singing in New Orleans

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pp. 273-266

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...


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pp. 367-429

General Index

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pp. 431-458

Song Index

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pp. 459-468

E-ISBN-13: 9781621039150
E-ISBN-10: 1621039153
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617036750

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 160 b&w
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 793497227
MUSE Marc Record: Download for To Do This, You Must Know How

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Music -- History and criticism.
  • African Americans -- Music -- Instruction and study.
  • Spirituals (Songs) -- Tennessee -- Nashville -- History and criticism.
  • Gospel music -- Alabama -- Birmingham -- History and criticism.
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