African-American Camp Meeting Hymns

The Fisk Jubilee Singers began touring in 1871 to raise money for their new university, drawing large crowds and public acclaim for their studied take on the spirituals their people had developed and sung during slavery. In other places outside prim recital halls, however, widespread enthusiasm for these relics of black culture was growing as well.

New York Sun, August 31, 1879

New York Sun, August 31, 1879

The attached pdf comes from The New York Sun from August 31, 1879 and gives a report of a “grove meeting” in New Jersey and a detailed analysis of the hymns sung by the black participants. We learn, among other things, that this is an annual affair, aimed—just like the Fisk tours—at generating funds for the local church, and that the white folks are the primary audience for whom it is performed. There are connoisseurs among them.

It’s fascinating to read this “ethnographic” account of African-American life and culture. The writer does seem to appreciate the art, but at the same time, one detects a patronizing note accompanying his gaze. For our money, though, it’s always better to see original documents such as this rather than to rely on secondary “overview” sources that try to characterize history broadly. Give it a whirl and see what you think.

Read the full article: New York Sun, August 31, 1879