They Bear Acquaintance

African American Spirituals and the Camp Meetings

by Nancy L. Graham (Author)
Monographs XIV, 164 Pages
Series: Music and Spirituality, Volume 4


Identifying the roots of African American spirituals and other religious folk music has intrigued academics, hymnologists and song leaders since this genre came to the public eye in 1867. The conversation on origins has waned and waxed for over eighty years, sometimes polemical, sometimes compromising. They Bear Acquaintance looks at this discussion through the output of various well-regarded researchers from the twentieth century. The effects of cultural distinctions, immigration patterns and class structure have all left their imprint on the anatomy of the music. No one living has ever heard a spiritual performed in an authentic setting, so misconceptions abound. Pre-dating the American Civil War and achieving global attention in the Civil Rights movement, the spirituals soften the edges of difficult situations, and speak gently, yet poignantly, to human struggles. The book also pinpoints new material from a wide range of sources in the twenty-first century that will preserve and affirm this music for many years to come.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Foreword (June Boyce-Tillman (Series Editor))
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Finding the Spirit
  • Chapter 2: The Song Emerges
  • Chapter 3: Listening to the Song
  • Chapter 4: The Sound from Camp Meetings
  • Chapter 5: Dissonance
  • Chapter 6: Another Voice
  • Chapter 7: A New Song
  • Conclusion: The Song Goes On
  • Appendix I
  • Appendix II
  • Appendix III
  • Bibliography and Works Cited
  • Index
  • Series index

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This is an exciting book showing how the fluidity of music enables fusions and mergers of traditions, and how emotion, theology, and culture interact within the concept of spirituality, especially when it is expressed in musicking. In particular, it focuses on the way in which spirituality in the US is built out of a merger of European and African traditions. Nancy investigates how a dominant culture tried to make stories simple; she disentangles the strands and demonstrates how complex the stories are. It is a carefully researched book and a welcome addition to the series, exploring a particular tradition in a painstaking way and restoring the place in the story of the sacred and secular traditions from Europe alongside the spiritual traditions coming from Africa via the slave trade. Spirituality is most easily expressed in music because of its multi-faceted nature, which speaks to body, mind, emotions and social context, as I explore in the second volume in this series, Experiencing Music – Restoring the Spiritual (Boyce-Tillman 2016), and these songs and traditions certainly deserve our attention and bear our acquaintance.

The Rev. Dr June Boyce-Tillman, MBE

Professor of Applied Music, University of Winchester

Artistic Convenor for the Centre for the Arts as Wellbeing

Extraordinary Professor at North-West University, South Africa

Convenor of the Tavener Centre for Music and Spirituality at Winchester ← ix | x →

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Thanks and gratitude are extended to all who watched this book unfold over the last twenty-five years, especially Robin A. Leaver, William Hays, Eugene Roan and Fred Blackmon. The resources at the Talbott Library at Westminster Choir College of Rider University are invaluable, as is the friendship, collegiality and research expertise provided by Nancy Wicklund Gray. The opportunities and support afforded by the Graduate Theological Foundation, particularly John H. Morgan and Bernard J. O’Connor are unique and immeasurable. Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and The Presbyterian Church of New Brunswick, New Jersey, were my proving grounds. The reception of my work by The Hymn Societies of the United States and Canada, and also Great Britain and Ireland, provided the essential reassurance to see this project to its proper conclusion. Susannah Reese, my copy editor, kept me focused. I am indebted most importantly to the Reverend Dr June Boyce-Tillman, M. B. E., first for noticing and second for her perceptive editing and patience. ← xi | xii →

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XIV, 164
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (February)
Structural crisis of capital Historical outmodedness of trade unionism Revolutionary agency in the twenty-first century
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. XIV, 164 pp., 5 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Nancy L. Graham (Author)

Nancy L. Graham is an independent researcher, musician and teacher. She gained both her PhD and Doctor of Sacred Music through the Graduate Theological Foundation and the Foundation House in Oxford UK, as well as a Master of Music from Westminster Choir College. She has served as a choral conductor, organist and lecturer throughout the Eastern United States and the UK. She currently resides in Memphis, Tennessee.


Title: They Bear Acquaintance
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179 pages