The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church / Edition 1

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Most observers believe that gospel music has been sung in African American churches since their organization in the late 1800s. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, as Michael W. Harris's history reveals. Working through the blues and gospel movement. Harris reconstructs the rise of gospel blues within the context of early twentieth century African American cultural history.

After a nervous breakdown and a subsequent religious conversion in 1928. Dorsey began to write gospel songs with blues accompaniments. His introduction of these "goals" into Chicago's Afro-Baptist churches during the 1930s stirred clashes between recently arrived southern migrants who felt comforted by the new spirituals and old-line members who dismissed the songs as sacrilegious echoes of the slave past. After years of writing and publishing hudnreds of "songs with a message"-- such as "Take My Hand", "Precious Lord", and "There Will Be Peace in the Valley"-- and training gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson, Dorsey had earned the title of "father" of gospel blues by the early 1940s. Delving into the life of the most prominent person in the advent of the gospel song movement. Harris illuminates not only the evolution of this popular musical form, but also the thought and social forces that forged the culture in which this music was shaped.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Harris...skillfully demonstrates the ways that music can serve ideology, whether as "survival texts" or as an emblem of class warfare. He also captures the union of piety and commerce inherent in American fundamentalism."--New York Times Book Review

"Harris cleverly weaves together his biographical and cultural analysis....He has written a fine book from which historians, even the tone deaf among them, will profit."--American Historical Review

"Harris carefully portrays Dorsey as the personification of the tension between the assimilationist and indigenous African-American traditions....This is no mere academic anatomizing imposed on a music of folkish popular culture....The fact that Harris transgresses the repressive orthodoxy of the church and reveals the human contribution to gospel music to be "the blues" makes his book one of the few nonfictional pieces placeable in Ralph Ellison's "blues school of literature."--Georgia Historical Quarterly

"The Rise of Gospel Blues fills a critical void.... More than a biography of an important composer, Harris frames Dorsey's life and music against the backdrop of early twentieth-century African-American social and intellectual history....A complex and provocative work, providing a solid foundation for exploring the role of gospel music in the twentieth-century African-American church."--Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter

"A most welcome book whose subjects are dramatically underrepresented in the literature and whose specific subject has been preserved too long only in the memories of the oral tradition."--Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195090574
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/28/1994
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael W. Harris is Associate Professor of History and African-American World Studies at the University of Iowa.

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Table of Contents

List of Music Examples
1 Religion and Blackness in Rural Georgia: 1899-1908 3
2 Music, Literacy, and Society in Atlanta: 1910-1916 26
3 Blues--From "Lowdown" to "Jass": 1921-1923 47
4 Blues--From "Jass" to "Lowdown": 1924-1928 67
5 Old-Line Religion and Musicians: 1920-1930 91
6 Old-Line Religion and Urban Migrants: 1920-1930 117
7 Preachers and Bluesmen: 1928-1931 151
8 The Emergence of Gospel Blues: 1931-1932 180
9 Giving the Gospel a Blues Voice: 1932 209
10 A Place for Gospel Blues in Old-Line Religion: 1932-1937 241
Notes 273
Bibliography 307
Index 317
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