Home > Shout Out to Black Church Music Makers-PUM Celebrating Black Music Month

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(Special dedication to Hazel Britt, former Director of the Rose Buds at Mt. Sinai)


G'way an' quit dat noise, Miss Lucy--
Put dat music book away;
What's de use to keep on tryin'?
Ef you practise twell you're gray,
You cain't sta't no notes a-flyin'
Lak de ones dat rants and rings
F'om de kitchen to de big woods
When Malindy sings.
…She jes' spreads huh mouf and hollahs,
"Come to Jesus," twell you hyeah
Sinnahs' tremblin' steps and voices,
Timid-lak a-drawin' neah;

…F'om de valley to de hill?
…Sof' an' sweet, "Swing Low,
Sweet Chariot,"
Ez Malindy sings.

-Paul Laurence Dunbar-


Africans arrived in America with rich cultural traditions that included an emphasis on using the spoken word, songs, drums, and dances as primary modes of communication in a universe dominated by spirituality.  These critically important cultural traditions were preserved by traditional Black churches steeped in the use of rhythmical sermons delivered by preachers whose parishioners [1] “pushed” them with their “calls” and “responses;” [2] “drummed” with their feet and hands; [3] sang like the above referenced “Malindy;” and [4] did the mind-body-spirit holy dancing commonly referred to as “shouting.”  Herein, testimony is offered regarding these matters.

(Pictured: Deacon Russell P. Daniel & Deaconess Grace C. Daniel, parents of Jack L. Daniel)

One mid-January morning, as Daddy, Mama, my two older brothers and I were trudging across the Franklin Bridge to church, the cold wind came off the icy river, cut through my heavy wool coat, and then penetrated my tweed Knicker suit and “long johns.”  When we arrived, Daddy lit the coal burning furnace and we kept our coats on while waiting for the church to warm.      

About 15 other old saints and a handful of children had arrived when my mother, a Deaconess, decided to warm things up by starting our devotional service.  She stood, cleared her throat, leaned her head back, and began singing, “Walk in the light, beautiful light, come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.  Oh shine all around us by day and by night, Jesus is the light of the world!” 

Mama stopped singing for a moment and said, “It’s freezing outside and we are so happy to be here in the Lord’s house.  I don’t know who else will get here, but this I know, Jesus is the light of the world.”  When she began singing again, everyone joined her.    

Before the chorus had been repeated, Sister Sally testified about the blessing of her husband having been called back to work.  Then she threw both hands in the air and began to do a “foot stomping holy dance.”  Deacon Mayberry yelled, “Thank you Jesus!” and began gyrating.  Little Raymond used soul-stirring piano chords to support them and others.  About 10 minutes later, things had truly been “warmed up” that morning. 

One Mother’s Day, Junior Choir member, Mary Elizabeth, didn’t just “warm things up.”  She “tore up” the church with her rendition of “Sweet Mother of Mine.”  After she lingered on the first few lines, she slowly walked out of the pulpit, stood in front of her mother who was sitting on the front pew, stopped singing for a second, and then exploded with, “Without your arms where would I be, Mother, sweet mother of mine?”  Folks went to screaming and crying; holy dancing erupted; the tambourine players got going; the piano player “went off;” syncopated clapping began; and, in sum, the congregation had the kind of musically aided joyful time we called having had “chutch,” not “church.”

Another very memorable occasion was the time Junior Boy came to church.  He had been in what we now call the “school to prison pipeline.”  He was approximately 30 years of age when he was released from a 5-year prison term.  He came to church the very first Sunday following his release. 

When the preacher finished his sermon and “opened the doors of the church” for those who wished to be saved, Little Raymond played a few soft notes of “throw out the life line…”  The choir began singing softly about “someone drifting away.”  Junior Boy stood and slowly made his way to the front of the church while singing in a deep bass voice, “Precious Lord, take my hand lead me on, let me stand; I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm lone, through the storm, through the night; lead me on to the light; take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.”  The choir shifted songs and joined him.  Some folks got “hit with the spirit;” Little Raymond made his organ scream; and folks thanked God for bringing Junior Boy “back home” by rhythmically praising God with their hands, feet, voices and whole bodies.


Traditional African people have always known the role of songs and other forms of music for accessing the inner-most recesses of our beings.  They didn’t need a psychiatrist to explain the psychological and spiritual benefits of church music for soothing their souls.  They knew what could happen when the “ministers of music,” “praise bands,” drummers, soloists, choir members and members of the congregation addressed their most profound needs.  They knew the empowerment that was demonstrated when Brother James Willie got out of his wheel chair, leaned on his cane, and sang “I’m pressing on!”  They observed the 90 years-old Church Mother who, in response to a “Precious Lord” organ interlude, jumped up, waved her fan, and yell “thank you, Jesus!”   

“Down home” in rural Goochland County Virginia, Ms. Ellen might start singing around noon.  As if she was a direct descendant of Malindy, her voice travelled very far through the woods.  Everyone under the sound of her voice paused, listened empathetically, and got nourished.  Her singing was so invigorating that suddenly your back didn’t ache from chopping weeds in the garden.  If you had been dragging along, you now had a new pep in your step. 

Many have documented the fact that Black church music constitutes the deeply planted cultural roots of the blues, soul, R&B, pop, jazz and, in short, the full range of Black secular music.  That is why so many “kings,” “queens,” “godfathers,” and “godmothers” of “soul” came from the church as in the cases of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Roberta Flack, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, John Legend, Diana Ross, and Usher. 

Because of Black church music’s rich religious roots and its many fruits, this Black Music Month a shout out is offered to the current preservers of these profound musical traditions.  We honor the Choir Directors; Music Ministries; Praise and Worship Teams; Tambourine, Drum, Organ, and Piano Players; Soloists, “Youth,” “Junior” and “Senior” Choirs; Old Saints who lead devotions; Ministers who deliver musical sermons; and Members of the congregation who co-sign the minister’s rhythms, rock with the musicians, and make “church” “chutch.”  If they remain keepers of the culture, then Black music will be like the land about which Aretha and so many others sang, i.e., Black music will “never grow old, never grow old…”


Jack L. Daniel

Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society

Pittsburgh Urban Media Contributor

 Repost by PUM Celebrating Black Music Month in June!


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