Give Light Impact: Preserving the Music

May 14, 2024
Stephen Newby holding a Baptist Hymnal in front of a historic house

Give Light Impact: Preserving the Music 

Dr. Stephen Newby describes the opportunity to serve as the inaugural Lev H. Prichard III Chair in the Study of Black Worship as his “dream job,” and you don’t have to look very far down his path to Baylor to see why.

For Newby — a lifelong musician and educator who earned a seminary degree and has also served as a music minister — the threads of music, education and ministry have all been at the root of his professional life. Those threads come fully together in the Prichard Chair, a position that will allow him to guide interdisciplinary leadership, research and scholarship efforts associated with the growth of Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Preservation Project (BGMPP).

Previously known as the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, the unprecedented effort to preserve Black gospel music has both a new name and new leadership, as Newby and Darryl Stuhr (MM ’98) have taken the baton from founder Robert Darden (BSED ’76). Darden saw the project grow from a dusty library basement at Baylor all the way to the Smithsonian, and now Newby and Stuhr aim to lead the BGMPP into new places through research, scholarship and relationships.

The Lev H. Prichard III Chair in the Study of Black Worship was established through a visionary gift by the Prichard Family Foundation and Ella Wall Prichard, B.A. ’63, in memory of Ella’s late husband, Lev H. Prichard III. Created during the Give Light philanthropic campaign and set up to receive matching funds through the Foster Academic Challenge, this chair was formed to further the research and work of the Black Gospel Music Preservation Program, related scholarship and coordination of collaboration with stakeholders.

Among Newby’s priorities are digitizing the “next generation” of Black gospel music. The “golden age” of gospel (generally considered to be the 1940s and ’50s, the years leading into the Civil Rights movement) dominated early preservation efforts; Newby hopes to pinpoint, digitize and archive as many recordings from the following 20 years as possible.

Relationships are a second focus. Newby will draw on contacts to build a network of scholars around the nation to utilize the BGMPP for scholarship and content, ranging from scholarly journals to popular blogs. Beyond his fellow scholars, he also hopes to galvanize his fellow ministers, connecting with Black churches to honor the Black gospel music tradition for a new audience, promoting inter-generational worship and engagement at local churches.

As he focuses on stewardship of the BGMPP, Newby says his research and scholarship remains “a job about people and community. There’s a lot of good work being done here, and it’s a wonderful balance of generosity, hospitality, academic rigor, and people who share their hearts.”

Baylor, he says, is the right place to conduct this work.

“I Baylor being an R1 institution is huge. I think Baylor being Christian is huge,” Newby says. “I’ve always had a great appreciation for this institution. When I look at all this—our archives, symposiums and investment—where else in the United States is anything like this going on?”

The Lev H. Prichard III Chair in the Study of Black Worship is one of 46 endowed chairs and professorships established during Give Light to have a lasting impact as they attract top scholars from around the nation and perpetuate long-lasting research and scholarship to meet the needs of the ages to come.