Tag Archives: music

God Gave Rock and Roll to You

14 May
Services at the Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky, 15 September 1946.

Services at the Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky, 15 September 1946.

The television preacher Jimmy Swaggart became a Christian megastar in the 1980s broadcasting from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His popular crusades and regular services appeared on television sets across the United States and around the world. At its peak, his ministry was taking in over one million dollars a week. He had honed a brash, bold, loud style of preaching that made him a revered figure, both in the context of the Assemblies of God – a group of affiliated churches that formed the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination – and in the broader world of evangelicalism. Critics reviled his holier-than-thou pulpit posturing and his bellicosity. Some stations even took him off the air for his religious and cultural bigotry.

Like many other Pentecostal preachers – who were moving into politics at a rapid rate – Swaggart believed that the Holy Ghost emboldened him to witness the arrow-straight truths of the Bible. With his southern drawl, he thundered against Hollywood celebrities, evolutionary scientists, communists, homosexuals, Catholics, feminists, secular liberals and other ‘enemies’ of the faith. Americans had lost interest in the Bible, he warned with deadly seriousness. A reporter at the New York Times took note. The Reagan-era televangelist was ‘tapping some powerful resentments here; he is speaking to the disenfranchised’. The country rightly deserved God’s judgment, Swaggart assured his audience with fury.

In the summer of 1985, Swaggart was on the road, conducting one of his mass revival crusades in New Haven, Connecticut. Before the cameras and the glare of stage lights he paced back and forth, waving his arms like he was fending off a swarm of bees. He raised his Bible high above his head. He shouted at his audience about the moral degeneracy that dragged reprobates through the gates of hell. At one performance, he took aim at ‘the devil’s music’: rock and roll.

How had Christians made peace with this vile, hideous music, he asked with urgency in his voice, drawing out words like ‘pul-pit’ and ‘bye-bull’. The issue was a personal one for him, he confided, pausing for emphasis and lowering his voice before lunging at the crowd, finger pointed upward to drive home his jeremiad.

‘My family started rock and roll!’ he exclaimed in front of the silent assembly of thousands. ‘I don’t say that with any glee! I don’t say it with any pomp or pride! I say it with shame and sadness, because I’ve seen the death and the destruction. I’ve seen the unmitigated misery and the pain. I’ve seen it!’ His voice cracking with emotion, he railed: ‘I speak of experience. My family – Jerry Lee Lewis, with Elvis Presley, with Chuck Berry … started rock and roll!’ His claim served an obvious rhetorical point, but there was also much truth to it.

So begins Randall Stephens’ concise summary of the argument of his book The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll (Harvard University Press, 2018). You may read his entire History Today piece here.

New World Prophecy: Dvorak, Dawson, and the Whiteness of Classical Music in America.

17 Sep

Though best known for his choral arrangements, William Levi Dawson composed a large-scale work, the <em></dt><dd class=

In 1934, Leopold Stokowski and his incomparable Philadelphia Orchestra premiered a new work by a black composer : the Negro Folk Symphony of William Levi Dawson. Four days later, Stokowski conducted the symphony at Carnegie Hall, a performance that was nationally broadcast and widely reviewed. “Hope in the Night,” the second movement, ignited an ovation—the orchestra had to stand. At the close, Dawson was repeatedly called to the stage. Pitts Sanborn of The New York World-Telegram wrote that “the immediate success of the symphony [did not] give rise to doubts as to its enduring qualities. One is eager to hear it again and yet again.” Leonard Liebling of the New York American (like Sanborn, a critic of consequence) went the full distance; he called Dawson’s symphony “the most distinctive and promising American symphonic proclamation which has so far been achieved.” Yet the Negro Folk Symphony would soon be forgotten.

So begins Joseph Horowitz’s intriguing American Scholar article on Dawson, Dvorak, and the whiteness of classical music in the United States. You may read the entire article here.

The Impossible, Necessary History of the Hymnal

13 Aug

Phillips, The Hymnal

Historian Chris Gehrz provides a fascinating review of a new book, The Hymnal, by Christopher N. Phillips. You may read the review here.

Bach Was Far More Religious Than You Might Think

2 Apr

The current fancy is that Bach was a forward-looking, quasi-scientific thinker who had little or no genuine interest in traditional religion. “Bach’s Dialogue With Modernity,” one recent, indicative book is called. In arriving at this view, scholars have ignored, underestimated or misinterpreted a rich source of evidence: Bach’s personal three-volume Study Bible, extensively marked with his own notations. A proper assessment of this document renders absurd any notion that Bach was a progressivist or a secularist.

So argues Michael Marrisen in his op-ed at the New York Times. You may read his entire piece here.

I Am Not Throwing Away My Shot

26 Mar

Since Christmas, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack from the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. I realize I’m a little late to the game, as per usual. Historians aren’t in a rush, apparently. My colleagues here at The Twelve have written excellent reflections on Hamilton (see Debra Rienstra’s piece here and Brian Keepers’ piece here) and I heartily agree with their astute observations. As I have been listening and singing along, however, I’ve realized a musical such as Hamilton very much reflects the current cultural climate. Rienstra and others have pointed out that the magic of Hamilton is that it is history told well. History is amazing, if it is told well. But I would also offer that history is amazing if told well to the right audience. It is hard to imagine anything like the Hamilton view of the founders in any other time but right now. Would Hamilton have been a hit 20 years ago? I doubt it. The emphasis on “immigrants…they get the job done,” Hamilton’s poor working class background, hip hop and rap influences, as well as the vision of the founders as non-white strikes a chord for today’s Americans.

So begins my successor’s fine reflections on Hamilton and public history. You may read the rest of her Twelve post here.

World War I: American Jazz Delights the World

24 Jan

In the afterglow of the armistice in 1918 that ended World War I, Europe, and particularly the city of Paris, exhibited a wild exuberance. In mid-January 1919, future civil rights pioneer and American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) officer Charles Hamilton Houston encapsulated the mood and sounds of European joy: “Paris is taken away with [jazz] and our style of dancing,” he wrote in his diary. “The girls come after the boys in taxis and beg them to go to the dance. Colored boys are all the go.”

So begins Ryan Reft’s post at the Library of Congress. You may read the rest of his post here.

Mathias Eick’s ‘Midwest’: A Musical Landscape

23 May

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

On Mathias Eick's new album, Midwest, he composes musical impressions of the Midwestern landscape.

Norwegian musician Mathias Eick has a fascinating musical perspective on the Midwest settled by Norwegian immigrants. List to some of his “place” music here: Mathias Eick’s ‘Midwest’: A Musical Landscape : NPR.

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