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They Bear Acquaintance

African American Spirituals and the Camp Meetings


Nancy L. Graham

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.

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Chapter 6: Another Voice


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Another Voice

Don Yoder’s (1921–2015) long career in folklore, church history and religious thought, makes him the most qualified of all of the acadèmes mentioned earlier to comment on any and all aspects of the spiritual, brush arbors, shouts, shaped-notes and more. He supported and defended Jackson’s findings through his entire life. Yet he is scornfully dismissed by John Lovell, ignored by Dena Epstein, and mentioned in an endnote by Lawrence W. Levine (1933–2006). Richard Crawford gives a few nods to the song of German immigrants in his acclaimed, America’s Musical Life (Crawford 2001, 53). Yoder recognized this slight as a young man and steadily collected materials of all types, but especially religious song.

Not surprisingly, Yoder grew up in central Pennsylvania and attended Franklin and Marshall College. From there he went to the University of Chicago and took a PhD in Church History. He taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York, Muhlenberg College, and Franklin and Marshall College before he landed at the University of Pennsylvania. Yoder established the Department of Folklore and Folklife in 1966 and was co-chair until 1971, after which he served as professor of Folklore and Folklife and finally professor of American Civilization from 1990 until his retirement in 1996. Yoder remained active intellectually through books, papers and speaking engagements up until his death in August of 2015 at nearly ninety-four. In 2007, he published a humorous, informative book,...

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