Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music—E3: Sacred and Spiritual Music in the Mountains
On this episode of our mini-series Sepia Tones, Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson welcome a spirited conversation with special guests Dr. Kathy Bullock and Rev. Dr. Virgil Wood. Our guests discuss the African American traditions of spiritual music, gospel, and the unique revival of shape note singing in 20th-century Appalachia. In many cases, music from sacred traditions and communities also became anthems that propelled those struggling in the civil rights movement.
Dr. Kathy Bullock is an arranger, choral conductor, pianist, and recently retired Professor Emerita of Music at Berea College in Kentucky specializing in gospel music, spirituals, and classical works by composers of the African diaspora.
Dr. Virgil Wood is a longtime church leader, educator, and civil rights activist who, among many other accomplishments, helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference alongside the organization’s first president, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. William Turner is a long-time African American studies scholar and retired Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies and Regional Ambassador from Berea College. He was also a research assistant to Roots author Alex Haley and co-editor of the groundbreaking Blacks in Appalachia. His memoir called The Harlan Renaissance is available now from West Virginia University Press. In 2021, Turner was honored with Western Carolina University's individual Mountain Heritage Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to Southern Appalachian studies.
Dr. Ted Olson is a professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University and the author of many books, articles, reviews, encyclopedia entries, and oral histories. Olson has produced and compiled a number of documentary albums of traditional Appalachian music including GSMA’s On Top of Old Smoky and Big Bend Killing. He’s received a number of awards in his work, including seven Grammy nominations. The East Tennessee Historical Society recently honored Olson with its Ramsey Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2021.
Music featured includes:
- "John Henry" performed by Amythyst Kiah and Roy Andrade from GSMA’s album Big Bend Killing
- "Come and Go" performed by the Berea Black Music Ensemble at the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music, 2014, Berea Sound Archive
- "I Have a Friend Above All Others" performed by the Bethlehem Kings Quartet, 1949, Berea Sound Archive
- "Swing Low" performed by Mount Sinai Spirituals at the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music, 2015, Berea Sound Archive
- "Jesus Is a Rock in a Weary Land" performed by members of the Holiness Church by Faith in Ozark, AL, 1968, recorded by Richard H. Tallmadge, Berea Sound Archive
- "Precious Lord" performed by Nat Reese at the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music,1991, Berea Sound Archive
- "Amazing Grace" performed by the Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers during the Symposium of Rural Hymnody at Berea College, 1979, Berea Sound Archive
- And a selection of music performed for our podcast by Dr. Kathy Bullock