Zion Still Sings

When Songs of Zion was developed by Discipleship Ministries and published by Abingdon Press in 1981, it filled the deep void and need in the church for a songbook for and by African Americans. It was intended for use by United Methodists, but it has consistently enjoyed wide ecumenical acceptance and use. It presented songs, hymns, choruses, spirituals, and some choral settings, along with helpful articles on the history, style, performance, and use of this body of music. Songs of Zion is used today by African American and other congregations in all denominations. It will remain an important item in the Abingdon catalog of church music resources.

Recognizing that it has been more than twenty-five years since the release of Songs of Zion, Abingdon Press is now releasing (Spring 2007) Zion Still Sings — For Every Generation! Following independent research by The United Methodist Publishing House, an editorial committee consisting of musicians, composers, pastors, academic and seminary leaders met over several years to do the work of compiling the book. I was privileged to serve as a member of that editorial committee, whose work was guided by the leadership of Bishop Woodie White.

At our first meeting on January 10, 2005, our committee developed the following statement of purpose for the songbook:

In the spirit of honoring and preserving the richness and inclusiveness of our African American musical heritage:

  1. First and foremost, we honor and preserve the richness of our musical heritage in worship.
  2. We continue to celebrate the diversity of styles, genres, and performance practices as we praise God.
  3. To offer up new music that will inspire and challenge us to see God with new eyes.
  4. Moreover, this resource will not compromise our theological and biblical integrity.
  5. In the spirit of Matthew 28:19, our hope is that this resource will be a motivating force to "do" the gospel.

In the spirit of the original Songs of Zion, the editorial committee has compiled a collection of congregational, choral, and solo song intended for use primarily by African American congregations. The music is largely composed by or has been used and performed by African Americans. Other music in the collection includes music of non-African American origin that has enjoyed wide acceptance in the Black church.

So is this a collection for the African American church? Yes, it is! But as with Songs of Zion, it will and should find wide acceptance also in the rest of The United Methodist Church and other denominations. While the editorial committee remained true to its statement of purpose, the result will be a resource that will enrich the worship and music life of all congregations.

Here are some of the interesting facts and statistics of Zion Still Sings:

  • Number of songs: 220.
  • One hundred eighteen songs are drawn from existing sources, including the African American Heritage Hymnal, Songs of Zion, and The Faith We Sing.
  • Forty-seven of those songs have all new accompaniments.
  • Five songs are by Charles Tindley.
  • Forty percent of the content is from the year 2000 and later.
  • Eighty-two songs are from the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in eighty percent of the book's contents being published since Songs of Zion

The scope of the style of the collection is breathtaking: spirituals, hymns, chants, sacred songs, traditional gospel songs, contemporary gospel, hip-hop, rap, and more. The committee grappled with the challenge of how to notate some of this music so that it can be reproduced by local musicians. So much of it has always been learned by listening and imitation. Given the limitations of the printed page to communicate the nuances of style and practice, there will be audio and video samplings, clips, and a website to demonstrate some of these styles and nuances. A CD-Rom will be available that will have recordings of songs and hard copies of scores for printing. A Sampler Edition is planned to be available by the end of March with full publication to follow.

In numerous ways, Zion Still Sings is taking us into new areas of both publishing and worship. It is an important and historical collection for the church. But more than that, it will be a source of new life and vitality for many churches, black and white.

Zion Still Sings may be ordered from Cokesbury