Article

Celebrating Black History Month #12

Early African American Congregational Singing
A Russian traveler, accustomed to the more restrained worship and song of the Greek Orthodox Church, visited the Mother Bethel AME congregation in 1811. He wrote this about the reading from the Psalms:

At the end of every psalm the entire congregation, men and women alike, sang verses in a loud, shrill monotone. This lasted about half an hour. When the preacher ceased reading, all turned toward the door, fell on their knees, bowed their heads to the ground and set up an agonizing, heart-rending moaning. Afterwards, the minister resumed the reading of the Psalter and when he had finished sat down on a chair; then all rose and began chanting psalms in chorus, the men and women alternating, a procedure which lasted some twenty minutes…

Two noteworthy features of this part of the service: the choral response given by the congregation to the reading of each psalm, and the singing of the psalms in alternation by the men and the women. Both point back to the African tradition of antiphonal singing, as do the loudness and the "heart-rending moaning."


Source: Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History, pages 91-92.

Categories: Worship, Lectionary Calendar, Black History Month