Celebration of Black Gospel Music Will Feature Musicians, Historians and Civil Rights Activists at Baylor’s 2014 Pruit Symposium

October 15, 2014

Bernice Johnson Reagon
(Courtesy photo)

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WACO, Texas (Oct. 15, 2014) — "Marching to Zion: Celebrating and Preserving Black Sacred Music" — Baylor University's 2014 Pruit Symposium — will bring together leading voices in black gospel music for conversation, celebration and music on Thursday, Oct. 23, through Saturday, Oct. 25, on the Baylor campus.
Civil rights hero and musician Bernice Johnson Reagon, Ph.D., a founding member of the Freedom Singers; choral master and author James Abbington, Ph.D.; and Dwandalyn Reece, Ph.D., curator of music and performing arts at the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture, will be keynote speakers. The event also will feature three black gospel music concerts open to the public.
"This brings together some of the world's top experts on black sacred music," said Robert F. Darden, associate professor of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences, and founder of Baylor's Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. The project acquires, preserves, records and catalogs at-risk black gospel music from past decades, when records and tapes were prevalent.
"It has been many years since there has been a national symposium devoted to the music that is the foundational music for all American popular music," Darden said. "We intentionally set out to 'cover the waterfront.' We wanted to have someone speak to every possible facet of gospel music. We have an expert on hip-hop and gospel music, on the depictions of female gospel artists in cinema and TV, we have someone speaking to the use of sacred music in the African-American megachurch tradition, we have an expert on the home of gospel music — Chicago — we have someone speaking to the more recent stars of gospel music, like Andrae Crouch and Walter Hawkins, and we have someone speaking about the intersection of the civil rights movement and protest spirituals and freedom songs."
From a scholarly perspective, the symposium is "a long overdue outlet for the best new research on America's greatest original art form," said Darden, author of "People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music" and "Nothing but Love in God's Water: Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement."
He noted that two representatives from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., will talk about the Smithsonian's efforts in preservation, including an update on the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture, under construction on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
"There is a direct Waco connection to the NMAAHC," Darden said. "The gospel music will be provided by Baylor's Black Gospel Music Restoration Project."
Beyond the scholarly and preservation aspects of black sacred music, "it's exciting to share the passion of a lifetime for people who only know about this music from TV and movies," Darden said. "Nothing compares to the real thing."
Sponsors for the series of lectures, panels and music are the Office of the Provost, the department of history, the School of Music, the department of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences, the American Studies program at Baylor, the Center for Christian Music Studies and the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary.


  • 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23: A gospel song celebration will be led by Jimmie Abbington, associate professor of church music and worship at Emory University, in Roxy Grove Hall, 624 Speight Ave. in Waco. The event, sponsored by the Baylor Diversity Enhancement Grant, will feature a variety of leading performers and composers of gospel music sharing classic and contemporary gospel songs in a "dueling pianos" format. This event is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.
  • 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24: Gospel song celebration by a choir conducted by Abbington and composed of singers from Dallas, Fort Worth and Central Texas will be at Seventh & James Baptist Church, 602 James Avenue in Waco. The concert, sponsored by the School of Music, will be followed at 7:30 p.m. with the keynote address by Reagon: "Songs of Life: Living, Love and Struggle." Refreshment and conversation will follow. The events are free, with no tickets required.
  • 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 25: The symposium will close with a gospel brunch celebration featuring the Jones Family Singers. The event will be held at McLane Stadium, 1001 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Waco. Seating is limited. Tickets are $10 and available online at www.baylor.edu/pruit/

    Thursday, Oct. 24, 2014 (Morning and afternoon events at McLane Stadium)

  • 9 a.m.: Registration and campus tours.
  • 11 a.m.: Brunch featuring Robert Darden, associate professor of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences and author of "Nothing But Love in God's Water: Black Sacred Music From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement." (Sponsored by the department of journalism, public relations and new media)
  • 12:45 p.m.: Panel discussion by Abbington.
  • 1:45 p.m.: Break and book signing with Abbington and Darden.
  • 2:30 p.m.: Emmett Price III, Ph.D., expert on African-American music and culture: "Singing the Sermon: Where Musicology Meets Homiletics." (Sponsored by the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching at Truett Seminary)
  • 3:30 p.m.: Break
  • 3:45 p.m.: Deborra Richardson, Ph.D., retired archivist for the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution: "Documenting History in Your Own Backyard: Tips on Preserving your Personal and Family Records." (Sponsored by American Studies)
  • Friday, Oct. 24, 2014 (Morning and afternoon events at McLane Stadium)

  • 9 a.m.: Stephen Newby, Ph.D., associate professor of music and director of composition at Seattle Pacific University: "Gospel Music's Articulation of Liberation Theology and Eschatology from Selected Works of Andrae Crouch and Walter Hawkins."
  • 10 a.m.: Break
  • 10:15 a.m.: Birgitta Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor of ethnomusicology at the University of South Carolina: "Old School Worship: Liturgical Re-Enactment as a Worship Arts Tool for Affirming Faith, Community and Identity in an Urban Megachurch."
  • 11:30 a.m.: Luncheon and keynote address by Dwandalyn Reece: "Musical Crossroads: Telling the Story of African-American Music in a National Museum. (Co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost)
  • 1:15 p.m.: Bob Marovich, black gospel music collector, music historian, radio host and editor-in-chief of "The Journal of Gospel Music": "A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music." (Sponsored by the department of history in the College of Arts & Sciences)
  • 2:30 p.m.: Tammy Kernodle, Ph.D., professor of musicology at Miami University: "Sacred Celluloid: The Gendering and Racialization of Gospel Through Film and Television."
  • 3:30 p.m.: Courtney Pace Lyons, Ph.D., church historian and lecturer in Baylor's department of religion: "Prathia Hall: From Singing Freedom to Preaching the Dream."

    Full symposium registration: To attend the academic presentations, keynote lectures, panel sessions and meals during the Symposium, a registration fee of $125 is required. Saturday's Gospel Brunch and concert is included in the cost.

    Public sessions and gospel brunch: For the sessions that are open to the public and Saturday's Gospel Brunch and concert, a registration fee of $10 is required.

    Public sessions: Several symposium sessions are open to the public. To attend only those, no conference registration fee is required.

    Student conference rate: A student rate that includes all symposium events and the gospel brunch is available upon request. Contact Matthew Rutkowski at matthew_rutkowski or call 254-710-3238.

    For registration or more information, visit www.baylor.edu/pruit/ A media kit featuring resources for print, digital and social media outlets also is available on the site. For more media information, contact Carl F. Flynn, director of marketing and communications for Information Technology and University Libraries, at 254-366-4432 or carl_flynn@baylor.edu


    The Pruit Symposium at Baylor University brings the perspective of the Christian intellectual tradition
    on contemporary issues of common concern. Through the articulation of differing views within the realm of Christian understanding, Baylor aspires to be a locus for a distinctly Protestant and Christian world view that is true to the best thoughts in Baptist tradition. In 1996, Ella Wall Prichard and the late Lev H. Prichard III of Corpus Christi established the Pruit Memorial Symposium Endowment Fund in memory of Helen Pruit Matthews and her brothers, Dr. Lee Tinkle Pruit and William Wall Pruit.

    For the past two years, the Pruit Symposium has focused on the celebration and preservation of black
    sacred music, a critical facet of global Christianity and North American culture that provides insight into United States history, African-American culture, the Civil Rights Movement and American Christianity. While last year's symposium was limited to a regional focus, the 2014 event is nationwide in scope.


    Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.