Mexican Pentecostalism and Hybridity in American Music

“Through the open windows of a second-story room opposite Hull House on a midsummer Saturday evening come the jazz strains of a gospel hymn being lustily sung in Spanish. If we were to trace this music to its source it would lead us into the midst of a revival meeting of the Pentecostals. There in a crowded room we would find a Mexican evangelist, eyes shining and face flushed by his enthusiasm, leading the singing, while an orchestra made up of a cornet, two drums, three triangles, and a piano beats out the rhythm with a will.”[1]

This is how Robert C. Jones and Louis R. Wilson describes an evening scene in a Mexican neighbourhood in Chicago. Their article was published in 1931 and addressed how many people from the migrant Mexican population converted to and adapted the beliefs and practices, including the musical practices of Pentecostalism.

Pentecostalism being defined in the Encyclopædia Britannica as a charismatic religious movement that gained popularity during the 20th century. The belief in a “post conversionreligious experience called baptism the Holy Spirit” [2] was (and still is) a defining trait for the associated denominations. Pentecostalism and similar movements grew out of a growing disregard for traditional religious practices in late 19th century. Expression of emotion and a more spontaneous articulation of the Gospel was preferred to the traditional church service. This was (and still is) very much present in the musical practices. “[…]the jazz strains of a gospel hymn lustily sung in Spanish” as described by Jones and Wilson, is an example of  what is described as “enthusiastic congregational singing”[3], a form of this emotional religious expression. This was a world away from the Latin chants of the Roman Catholic Church, in which the majority of Mexican immigrants were raised.

Just shy of a century after Jones’ and Wilson’s observations, services are still being held in Spanish in what identifies as Mexican or Spanish Pentecostal churches across America. This video from a Pentecostal service Hammond, Indiana, uploaded in 2013 around which I assume it was filmed, shows not only gospel elements but Latin elements within the music, and rightfully so. Maracas, and what could be a vihuela [4]  can be hard, as well as a variety of other rhythmic instruments.

The Spanish adaption of gospel music within Mexican Pentecostalism is a good example of the hybridity we find in so much of American music, even though the two styles of music, traditional Mexican music and the gospel music of the United States are not necessarily mutually exclusive genres. It has for instance been argued that gospel music has drawn from Latin and Caribbean influences as well as its African American and European roots.


Melton, J. Gordon. “Pentecostalism” Ecyclopædia Britannica. August 31th, 2014. [Accessed November 11th, 2019]

“Mariachi”. Ecyclopædia Britannica. January 29th, 2016. [Accessed November 11th, 2019]

Jones, Robert C.. Wilson, Louis R. The Mexican in Chicago (1931). Comity Commission of the Chicago Church Federation. The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. [Accessed November 10th, 2019]

“Sunday Service Spanish Pentecostal Hammond, IN”. Uploaded April 14th, 2013. Youtube. [Accessed November 11th, 2019]


[1] Jones et al. 1931

[2] Melton 2014

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Mariachi” 2016

Stephen Foster: A History of Praise

The blog post for this week has been based on this short article[1] from St. Olaf College’s very own Manitou Messenger published on October 20th, 1925:

This touches on a couple of interesting topics. Firstly, the fact that a white American man is categorized as a composer of “negro spirituals”. Secondly, it seems to me that the fact that someone was trying to promote Afro-American music, however narrowly defined as it may be, certainly got the attention of the unnamed writer of the article, hence the choice of title. This could indicate that this was an unusual topic for the time, and this might very well be an attempt to spark a discussion in the newspaper, and to draw in the readers.

The writer does not give any details of what “the Reverend M. A. Christenson” viewed as the American folk- sound, and if he personally differentiated between American folk songs and negro spirituals as stated in the article, as if they are separate from each other and had no connections whatsoever. I admit that this is slightly speculative, but it seems to me that what in the title seems like an attempt to advocate for African American music, is actually endorsing the separatist tendency we see in the scholarly writings of the time, trying to define American music history. He wants to praise the music, but trough white man’s authority and as his creation. This is of course based on the presumption that Christenson of Portland, Oregon is not an African American, this might be the case, but then the argument he is making might seem a bit regressive.

In the Vinyl collection I found this collection of Stephen Foster Favourites, containing a 1978 recording of “My Old Kentucky Home”, the song that superseded Christenson’s address. The Robert Shaw Chorale sings “My Old Kentucky Home” with a straight rhythm, classical technique, and the song itself is harmonised in a simple SATB-chorale style “spiced up” by some counterpoint nearing the end of the piece. This seems very “on-brand” when you look at the cover art for the record. The description in the back, if not in a bit condescending and romanticising way, does not, however, deny the Afro-American influence on Foster’s compositions:

“[…] he was under the spell of the minstrel shows, the singing of the Negroes […] on the riverboats from the South, and of the Negro worshippers in a little church near his childhood home”

Bever and Robinson in their 2018 article[2] on “My Old Kentucky Home” they write about the controversy surrounding it being sung annually at the Kentucky Derby. This discussion was seemingly sparked due to to the removal of Fosters rather racially unsensitive statue, made in 1900 and situated in Pittsburgh,  a few months earlier. Bever and Robinson quote critics expressing that the statue

“glorifies white appropriation of black culture, and depicts the vacantly smiling musician in a way that is at best condescending and at worst racist,”[3].

As much can also be said about Fosters music, and the way his role in the American musical canon has been presented both in the 1924, 1978 and as well as his borrowing from African American culture shows that much is glossed over to find that holy grail of authentic music without dealing with a painful past. The same goes for using his music for the sake of tradition in our own time. Bever and Robinson also include a quote by  Forster biographer Ken Emerson, which I chose to end this post with:

“ “Ironically,” Emerson said, “here is a song that was inspired by a great abolitionist novel, and which no less a leader than Frederick Douglass himself singled out as a song that awakens the sympathies for the slave, in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish. So, like all of Foster’s music, it’s thick with contradictions that, to this day, I think, are part of the American experience.” “[4]


“Chapel Speaker Praises Composer of Negro Songs”. The Manitou Messenger. No. 6, Vol.039, October  20th, 1925. Page 4. Northfield, United States

Bever, Lindsey. Robinson, Lynda. “‘My Old Kentucky Home’: The Kentucky Derby’s beloved, fraught singalong about slavery”.  The Washngton Post. May 5, 2018. [Accessed October 30th, 2019


Statue of Stephen Foster×0/smart/  [Accessed 30.10.2019]


[1] The Manitou… 1925: p. 4

[2] Bever and Robinson 2018

[3] Ibid

[4] ibid

Dilution to transcendence

Blogpost #6

This is a 1945 recording of Charles Ives’ “In the Inn”. The performer in question is John Kirkpatrick[1], a pianist who championed of Ives and other composers of his scope, for instance Carl Ruggles. This is evident in his lengthy, if not a bit irregular correspondence with Ives’, from the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s until Ives death in 1954. Kirkpatrick’s approach to the works of Ives and Ruggles is nothing if not thorough; always asking for clarification of his interpretations, and expressing a profound respect for the harmonic intent of Ives.

Th correspondence shows that Kirkpatrick quite continuously throughout these decades was helping Ives develop pieces and initiating projects regarding his works, including this recording of “In the inn”. The piece’s original draft was dated around 1915 and composed about a decade earlier. As the second movement of Ives’ A Set of Pieces for Theater or Chamber Orchestra it shares the overall ragtime feel of the collection. The repurposing of the something with such close ties to Afro American culture, albeit in a new harmonic context, may indicate that Ives’ idea of creating a “new music” does in fact not completely sever ties with the American past.

In one of what Owens calls Kirkpatrick’s “semiregular progress-report letters”[2] he finishes his letter with contextualising the works of first Ruggles (“good old Carl”) and comparatively:

“Take good old Carl, for instance,— the splendid freedom of his musical inspiration, and the almost pedantic preoccupation with his non-repetition-of-note principle — the startling “modern” quality of his dissonant harmony, and the unmistakably “romantic” Wagner-Strauss derivation of his melodic contour. And of course, nobody has ever combined in their music more diverse elements than Ives!”[3]

It is evident that drawing inspiration from a wide variety of musical influences, both aesthetically and with regards to musical traditions, from different time periods and cultures is something Kirkpatrick holds in high regard. Is the synthesizing of inspirational sources an attempt of constructing a music that transcends race, identity and nationality? One could argue that if one merges enough elements one dilutes the source material to the point of transcendence.


Primary sources:

“Ives: In the Inn (John Kirkpatrick, 1945)”. [Accessed October 23th, 2019]

Owens, Tom C. (ed.). Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives (2007). University of California Press, Los Angeles.

Secondary sources:

Barron, James. “John Kirkpatrick Is Dead at 86; A Pianist Who Popularized Ives”. The New York Times. November 11th, 1991. [Accessed October 23th, 2019]



[1] Barron 1991

[2] Owens 2007: p. 305

[3] Ibid p. 304

All in Good Spirit

Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) was a Canadian-born poet, essayist, choir conductor and composer born in Drummondsville, a town founded by escaped slaves from the south of the United States. Being classically trained, he studied at both Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio and Harvard University, finally getting his Master of Music from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He was also the first African American that obtained an honorary doctorate from the Oberlin Conservatory.

His main body of work consists of “early English music, works from the Russian liturgy, Christmas carols, and arrangements of spirituals”[1], but he also wrote essays on “Negro Music”, warning about the dangers of commercializing it an consequently having it lose its meaning. Library of Congress’ biography on Dett refers to how his biographer Anne Key Simpson remarks his

“lifelong dedication to finding a musical form to bridge the gap between the music’s simple origins and its concert performance.”[2]

When listening to this performance as an example of his works I have selected his arrangement for solo voice and piano of “Follow Me”, categorized as a “Negro Spiritual” as collected by Mrs. Catherine Fields-Gay, about whom I found very little information. The piano accompainment provides a light harmonic texture in a style that in my opinion lends itself to the “Spiritual” genre. The  accompainment occationaly doubles or ecoes the rhythmic structure and/or the melody in the voice. This might be a slight nod to call-and-response. Examples of this are in meaures 16 , 20 and 24. He also also highlights the syncopation in the voice with a straight rhythm in the piano and vice versa, for instance in measures 19 and 27.

Baritone Richard Hodges performance of the piece:

In this performance Hodges skips the appoggiatura assigned, possibly an interpretation of the portamento-like slide into the note, so often associated with the African American singing style as either transcribed by Dett or Fields-Gay. Hodge’s style of singing is essentially classical. The span between the “authentic” performance practice of spirituals and a traditional, euro-centric practice might seem too far, and Dett’s mission impossible.

Whenever an oppressive culture interprets the oppressed’s, there is always the asymmetrical power relation to consider, but what happens when an African American composer and performer respectively arranges and performs but within that “oppressive” stylistic framework? Is this reclaiming the material? Or is it as Dett wished to unify the two musical traditions in a “best of both worlds”-like scenario? Or is this just an aspect of the gentrification of the spiritual, seen throughout the 19th century?

Primary sources

Dett, R. Nathaniel. “Follow Me” (1919). The John Church Company, Cincinati. [Accessed October 16th,2019]

“Richard Hodges- Follow Me by R. Nathaniel Dett”. November 18th, 2015. [Accessed October 16th,2019]

Secondary sources

Library of Congress. “R. Nathaniel Dett”. [Accessed October 16th,2019]


[1] Library of Congress

[2] Ibid

Stealing our stuff!

For this week’s blog post I have chosen a spirited article, or what I personally categorize as more of an opinion piece, from the February 19, 1966 edition of The Chicago Defender. Encyclopædia Britannica describes The Chicago Defender as “the most influential African American newspaper during the early and mid-20th century”[1]. With a national target audience, it played a vital role in the migration of African Americans from the South to the northern states.

The article is written by Baptist preacher and professor emeritus at Virginia Union University, Gordon Blaine Hancock (1884–1970)[2]. The son of two African American former slaves from South Carolina, he was an avid spokesperson for the Afro American cause the generation before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, often linking activism with education[3].

The article in question is candidly titled “Whites Constantly Steal from Negro”[4]. He begins with a call to arms of sorts:

He then goes on to describe how the religious practices of the south, what he calls the “Negro style” with “Negro Patterns”, have been adapted by white people. He continues with connecting preaching to music and music culture:

In the rest of the article he gives examples of genres and styles like tap-dancing, jazz, ragtime, and crooning. White culture popularizes the negro patterns. [They are] “Stealing our stuff!” he exclaims.  You can clearly sense Handcock’s frustration, especially when it comes to the financial gain that comes with the success of these genres, albeit a polished version to fit into white, bourgeoisie aesthetics and expectations. Despite the despair he seems to emit he ends on a somewhat positive note:


Hancock’s reaction is not completely incomparable to sentiments uttered in the ongoing debate about cultural appropriation, specifically when it comes music.

Although Hancock’s tone is very direct, in a political and academic climate such as that which Hancock had experienced up until 1966, we can understand why he resorts to a strong retaliation. Faced with inadequately researched, generalizing and populist scholarship and having to confront the likes of George Pullen Jackson, one can understand Hancock’s plea. His article expresses what I interpret as both despair and fear; The fear of losing one’s culture, one’s history, one’s music – an apprehensiveness very much shared with African Americans today, as well as other marginalized groups.

Primary Sources:

Hancock, Gordon B. “Whites Constantly Steal from Negro.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Feb 19, 1966. [Accessed October 9th, 2019]

Jackson, George Pullen. White and Negro Spirituals: Their life span and kinship” (1943). J. J. Augustin Publisher, New York.

Secondary Sources:

Gavins, Raymond. “Gordon Blaine Hancock (1884–1970).” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 1 May. 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2019 [Accessed October 9th, 2019

“Chicago Defender”. Encyclopædia Britannica, July 11, 2019. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.  [Accessed October 9th, 2019]

[1] “Chicago Defender” 2019

[2] Gavins 2014

[3] ibid

[4] Hancock 1966

This is how I talk: Comedy and language – a minstrel legacy

The writers for Saturday Night Live are not the first people to use African American English (AAE) and its mannerisms as comedic subject matter. AAE is defined by Mufwene in Encyclopædia Britannica as:

“a language variety that has also been identified at different times in dialectology and literary studies as Black English, black dialect, and Negro (nonstandard) English”[1]

He then goes on to explain that there is no clear consensus of how this language variety emerged. Some connect it to influences by African language, for instance as a descendant from 17th-century West African Pidgin English or, while others argue that it is an English dialect with its roots in colonial English or creole language.

Pullum stresses in his chapter in The Workings of Language[2], that what is known as the “African American Vernacular English” (AAVE), often used synonymous with Ebonics and AAE, is in fact not just standard English spoken inadequately, but is its own legitimate version. The starting point for his discussion he writes about the “media frenzy”[3]  that occurred in 1996 when an Oakland School Board recognised AAVE as a language in their district due to a large Afro American Population. The critics viewed AAVE as “black slang” and not appropriate in a formal setting. Pullum argues due to the use of “a different grammar, clearly and sharply distinguished from Standard English”[4], through his linguistic analysis, this argument does not hold up.

Eric Lott in his book Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class references the song “Jim Crow”[5]. The lyrics clearly reflecting, or at least trying to reflect, a specific way of speaking. What the text does not reflect, is the tone, body language and gestures that comes with any living language.

I am no linguist, but it seems to me that the major differences between Standard English are really in the spelling (or pronunciation) of a handful of words, for example “Ob de real ole stock”, not in the actual grammar. Having in mind that this text and Pullums analysis is separated by almost 170 years, which leaves room for considerable development of any language, I would be inclined to suggest that the lyrics are based of the idea, still present in 1996, that AAE/AAVE is just an inferior shadow of “proper” English.

Based on the sheet music presented  in How to put on a minstrel show from 1921[6], I would seem like in 100 years the language in lyrics have moved more towards Standard English. This is also present in the jokes, dialogues and monologues in the book. The author Geoffrey K. Pullum states in the beginning that his book is based of more than 30 years of experience of staging amateur minstrel shows. I will not try to pass this off as representative of the actual practice, this might just be the procedure when notating minstrel songs, leaving the interpretation to the performers. Considering this, the book is intended for amateur performers with limited experience.

Excample from How to put on a minstrel show(1921):

Saturday Night Live’s sketch reflects the portrayal of African American English previously presented in the early minstrel shows. The language and cultural non-verbal mannerisms have been made fun of, on basis of its perceived inadequacies, which in later years, have been argued are actually structural idiosyncrasies of a legitimate variety of the English language.

Primary Sources

“This is how I talk – SNL” (May 17,2015). Saturday Night Live (YouTube) [Accessed October 2nd, 2019]

Rossiter, Harold. How to put on a minstrel show. (1921) [Accessed October 2nd , 2019]

Secondary sources

Pullum, Geoffrey K. “African American Vernacular is Not Standard English with Mistakes”, The Workings of Language. (1999). Westport CT: Praeger. [Accessed October 2nd, 2019]

Mufwene, Salikoko Sangol. Encyclopædia Britannica. “African American English” (January 29th 2016). [accessed October 1st 2019]

Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. (1993). Oxford University Press, New York


[1] Mufwene 2016

[2] Pullum 1999

[3] Ibid p. 39

[4] Ibid p. 57

[5] Lott 1993:  p. 23

[6] Rossiter 1921: p. 54

DIY Folk Music

Even though my career as a washboard virtuoso was neither long nor successful, nostalgic recollections of my wild adolescence resurfaced when I found photographs of homemade instruments in The Lomax Collection. Personal experiences aside, the usage or repurposing of household items as musical instruments is an aspect of folk music, and the adjacent genres like country and bluegrass, that is worth further examination.

The Alan Lomax Collection  [1] contains documentation from ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax’ field research on folk music locally in the US and internationally. The pictures chosen are from Lomax’ early American research between 1936-1950, while working for the Library of Congress. To accompany the photographs, I have chosen a recording from 1941 by performer Wayne “Gene” Dinwiddie. The recording begins with him explaining how he made a wind instrument and then he performs a song with it.

Bruno Nettl states in his article [2] on folk music in Encyclopædia Britannica that it primarily refers to the music of the majority, “particularly the lower socioeconomic classes”.  Other keywords from the article are “informal”, “social function” and “participatory” which may indicate an improvised and impromptu culture for musicmaking.  He stresses the inclusive, ‘low-bar for participation’ culture. Knowing this, we can begin to understand the need for making instruments or utilizing every-day items. The photos show a wide array different types, varying form wind instruments to strings and percussion.

One could argue that homemade instruments can provide context to the noisy and “unrefined” soundscape so often attributed to folk-related genres. The prejudices against what is identified as a “hillbilly”, “down home” genre may be enforced with the use of homemade instruments. Listening to Dinwiddie one could argue that what sounds like a lot like a modern kazoo, sounds quite tuneful. I would seem that instruments without centuries of history and development, do not get the instant status even though they apply the same basic concepts for generating sound. On the other hand, one could argue that the homemade instruments give folk music a more authentic sound, free from the restraints of western, classical dogma.

[1] Folk Musical […] 1934-1950

[2] Nettl 2019

Primary source; From the Lomax Collection:

Folk Musical Instruments Including Homemade Horns. , None. [Between 1934 and 1950] Photograph.

Folk Musical Instruments Including Homemade Horns, Homemade Drum, and Washboard. , None. [Between 1934 and 1950] Photograph.

Todd, Charles L, Robert Sonkin, and Wayne “Gene” Dinwiddie. There’s More Pretty Girls Than One. Arvin FSA Camp, 1941. Audio.

Secondary sources:

The American Folklife Center.  Alan Lomax Collection [Accessed September 23, 2019]

Nettl, Bruno, Encyclopædia Britannica, “ Folk music”, January 2, 2019. [accessed September 23, 2019]


Cultivating Compassion: an Unexpected Plea for the Native Americans

Figure 1                                   Figure 2



For this blog post I will examine the book History of Oklahoma and Indian Territory and homeseekers’ guide (Fig. 1), published in 1906 and written by James L. Puckett. The book itself is based on statements given to the author by different people that were in some way affiliated with the native American tribes in the area. The specific primary source is the experiences as stated by Ora. A. Woodman (Fig. 2)[1], after his capture during an Indian raid and the subsequent adolescence as part the tribe. Puckett stated that there is little to no evidence of Woodman’s ancestry or background, other than being born somewhere in western Texas before the civil war[2]. In the section I chose from this account, Woodman explains how the Native American music might be wrongly perceived (Fig. 3)[3] and how he views it.

Figure 3

Why did Puckett include this rather nuanced encounter, stating somewhat radical opinions on Indian music, in his book? Woodman, with no recollections of his life outside the tribe and one could argue without the biases that comes with western, Eurocentric society, has an interesting platform for promoting the Native American cause. Or did Puckett simply include this story as a curiosity for the readers, a local Tarzan of sorts? Does he want to show the world the depravity attainable when one fraternizes too much with the natives? To find meaning and take pleasure in their music?

When it comes to Puckett’s personal views and credibility it is worth looking into his life story according to his own recollections, a separate chapter of the book, he began his career moving cattle in Arkansas of which he soon tired. After a failed courtship with a Cheyenne woman he went to Oklahoma where he had close friendship with a Cherokee man (Fig. 4 a and b)[4] culminating in him attending gatherings for the native tribes an interacting with them.

Figure 4 a

Figure 4 b

He ended up being married to three Cherokee women, separately, throughout his life and the book names the third one as a co-author (Fig.1). It seems to me that this is a life and the actions of a somewhat progressive thinker, through marriage and friendship he interacted a lot with native tribes and collected testimonies from them directly. in spite of this   it is important to highlight the somewhat autobiographical nature of this collection of experiences.

As far as the original or intended audience for this book Puckett writes that he believes what he calls his “memories” will be “worth something to people seeking homes in the new country”[5]. Considering this statement in light of what might be perceived as sympathetic undercurrents in the text, I would be inclined to assume that Puckett’s intentions were conscientious; That he wished that newcomers to the territory would have a better understanding of the land, its people and consequently their music.


Puckett, James L. History of Oklahoma and Indian Territory and homeseekers’ guide. Vinita, Oklahoma: Chieftain Publishing Company. 1906. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, [Accessed September 15, 2019].

[1] Puckett 1906: p. 71

[2] Ibid p. 73

[3] Ibid p. 77

[4] Ibid p. 123-124

[5] Ibid p. 149