Religion and the History of Black Music

Religion and the History of Black Music

From the Rise of Gospel to the Reign of Hip Hop

MAY 26–AUGUST 4, 2021

Experience Together – Listen, Learn, Discuss

Join Josef Sorett, Professor of Religion and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University, for this six-part series run in coordination with two Columbia Summer Session courses – Gospel Music in Modern America and Religion and the History of Hip Hop.

These events bring together scholars, musicians, media workers, and fans for a discussion of the evolving role of religion in shaping the history of Black music. Each Wednesday will be organized around a selection of songs that guests will discuss as a means for thinking about the play between religion and music during a specific moment in time.

PART I: GOSPEL MUSIC IN MODERN AMERICA

Part I focuses around the play between sacred and secular in gospel music, from the advent of modern gospel during the Great Migration era, through the rise of Contemporary Gospel Music, up through the early years of the 21st century. 

Wednesday, May 26

6:00p.m.–7:00 p.m. ET
Opening Conversation on Religion and Black Music with Columbia Undergrads

Watch the event

Professor Sorett introduces the series and engages three Columbia undergraduates, who also co-host a campus radio show. This conversation surveys the full span of the religion and the history of Black music, from the early years of Gospel music through Hip Hop music during the most recent decade.

Guest Speakers

  • Malachi Jones, '22CC 
  • Colby King, '22CC 
  • Briana Wood, '22CC 

Registration for this event is closed.

Listen to the songs on Spotify

Listen to the songs on YouTube

Listen to the songs on Apple Music

Wednesday, June 9

6:00p.m.–7:00 p.m. ET
Gospel Blues to Modern Gospel
(1930s–1970s)

Watch the event

Featuring Juilliard Professor and Ethnomusicologist Fredara Hadley, this conversation digs deeper into the early history of Gospel music, focusing on the three decades that followed the emergence of the genre in the 1930s. 

Guest Speaker

Fredara M. Hadley, Ph.D.
Professor of Ethnomusicology
The Juilliard School

Registration for this event is closed.

Listen to the songs on Spotify

Listen to the songs on YouTube

Listen to the songs on Apple Music

Wednesday, June 23

6:00p.m.–7:00 p.m. ET
Trajectories in Contemporary Gospel (1980s–present)

Watch the event

Professor Sorett focuses in on the years that follow the period typically considered to be the Gospel genre’s “golden age.” Joined by UVA Professor Claudrena Harold, historian and author of When Sunday Comes: Gospel Music in the Soul and Hip Hop Era, they discuss developments in Gospel music from the 1970s to the present.

Guest Speaker

Claudrena Harold, Ph.D. 
Professor of African American and African Studies and History
Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

Registration for this event is closed.

Listen to the songs on Spotify

Listen to the songs on YouTube

Listen to the songs on Apple Music

PART II: RELIGION AND THE HISTORY OF HIP HOP

Part II follows the history of Hip Hop music from the 1970s to the present, examining the range of religious ideas and practices that have animated the performance, production, reception, and consumption of rap music.

Wednesday, July 7

6:00p.m.–7:00 p.m. ET
1970s–1990s

Watch the event

The first event in Part II kicks off a discussion of the various ways that religion appeared in Hip Hop music as it was first emerging, as well as the response by religious leaders to the sounds of a new genre.

Guest Speaker

Marcyliena Morgan, Ph.D.
Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Professor of African and African American Studies, and Executive Director of the HipHop Archive and Research Institute
Harvard University

Registration for this event is closed.

Listen to the songs on Spotify

Listen to the songs on YouTube

Listen to the songs on Apple Music

Wednesday, July 21

6:00p.m.–7:00 p.m. ET
1990s–2010s

Watch the event

Joined by public intellectual and Teachers College Professor Christopher Emdin, this conversation follows shifts in the religious dimensions of rap music during the 1990s and 2000s.

Guest Speaker

Christopher Emdin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Science and Education
Teachers College, Columbia University

Registration for this event is closed.

Listen to the songs on Spotify

Listen to the songs on YouTube

Listen to the songs on Apple Music

Wednesday, August 4

6:00p.m.–7:00 p.m. ET
2010s–present

Watch the event

Wrapping up the series, the final conversation features a discussion of place of religion and spirituality in Hip Hop music over the last decade.

Guest Speaker

Joshua Bennett, Ph.D.
Professor of English and Creative Writing
Dartmouth College

Registration for this event is closed.

Listen to the songs on Spotify

Listen to the songs on YouTube

Listen to the songs on Apple Music

FEATURED SPEAKERS
Josef Sorett, Ph.D.

Professor of Religion and African American and African Diaspora Studies
Department of Religion, Columbia University

Josef Sorett is Professor of Religion and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University, where he is also chair of the Department of Religion and directs the Center on African-American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice. As an interdisciplinary scholar of religion and race in the Americas, Josef employs primarily historical and literary approaches to the study of religion in black communities and cultures in the United States. His first book, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 2016) illumines how religion has figured in debates about black art and culture across the 20th century. A second book, The Holy Holy Black: The Ironies of an American Secular, is forthcoming with Oxford UP. Additionally, Josef is editing an anthology, The Sexual Politics of Black Churches, which will be published by Columbia University Press.

Joshua Bennett, Ph.D.

Professor of English and Creative Writing
Dartmouth College

Joshua Bennett is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College. He is the author of three books of poetry and literary criticism: The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016)—which was a National Poetry Series selection and a finalist for an NAACP Image Award—Being Property Once Myself (Harvard University Press, 2020) and Owed (Penguin, 2020). Bennett holds a Ph.D. in English from Princeton University, and an M.A. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick, where he was a Marshall Scholar. In 2021, he received the Whiting Award for Poetry and Nonfiction.

Bennett has recited his original works at venues such as the Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP Image Awards, and President Obama’s Evening of Poetry and Music at the White House. He has also performed and taught creative writing workshops at hundreds of middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities across the United States, as well as in the U.K. and South Africa.

Bennett’s writing has been published in The Best American Poetry, The New York Times, The Paris Review and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, MIT, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. His first work of narrative nonfiction, Spoken Word: A Cultural History, is forthcoming from Knopf.

Christopher Emdin, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Science and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Christopher Emdin is a tenured professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as Associate Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education. He is the author of the award-winning book Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation and the New York Times bestseller, For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood and the Rest of Ya’ll Too. Emdin has been named one of the The Root 100 Most Influential African Americans and one of the 27 people bridging divides across America by Time. His newest book, Ratchetdemic, is currently available for order wherever books are sold. 

Fredara M. Hadley, Ph.D.

Ethnomusicology Professor
The Juilliard School

Fredara Mareva Hadley, Ph.D. is an ethnomusicology professor in the Music History Department at The Juilliard School where she teaches courses on ethnomusicology and African American Music. Dr. Hadley has presented her research at universities and conferences both domestic and abroad and has been published in academic journals and other publications. Her commentary is featured in several documentaries including the recently released PBS doc-series, The Black Church, hosted by Professor Henry Louis Gates. Dr. Hadley's ongoing research projects focus on the musical impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and on Shirley Graham DuBois, one of the earliest Black women musicologists and opera composers.

Claudrena Harold, Ph.D.

Professor of African American and African Studies and History 
Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

Claudrena N. Harold is Professor and Chair of the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. She is the author of three books, The Rise and Fall of the Garvey Movement in the Urban South, 1918-1942New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South, and When Sunday Comes: Gospel Music in the Soul and Hip-Hop Eras. She has coedited two volumes, The Punitive Turn: New Approaches to Race and Incarceration and Charlottesville 2017: The Legacy of Race and Inequity. As a part of her ongoing work on the history of black student activism at UVA, she has co-directed with Kevin Everson nine short films.

Malachi Jones

'22CC, Creative Writing

Malachi Jones is a rising senior at Columbia College majoring in Creative Writing with a dual focus in Poetry & Nonfiction. His work has been honored with several scholastic awards culminating to a prestigious gold medal writing portfolio in 2018. He currently serves on the editorial board of The Columbia Review, the nation's oldest college literary magazine, and is a frequent programmer with his friends on Barnard's WBAR Radio.

Colby King

'22CC, African American and African Diaspora Studies

Colby King is a rising senior in Columbia College born in Houston and raised in Dallas, Texas. He is majoring in African American Studies with an interest in religion, psychology, and legal studies. At Columbia, he serves on the University Senate, Columbia College Student Council, and the Black Students' Organization Executive Board and co-hosts a Southern Hip Hop station with WBAR Radio.

Marcyliena Morgan
Marcyliena Morgan, Ph.D.

Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Professor of African and African American Studies, and Executive Director of the HipHop Archive and Research Institute, Harvard University

Marcyliena Morgan is the Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Founding Director of The Hiphop Archive and Research Institute (HARI) at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. She earned both her B.A. and her M.A. degrees at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She obtained an additional M.A. in linguistics at the University of Essex, England and her PhD through the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She has written extensively on language and identity, education, linguistic philosophy, gender, feminism and sexuality and hiphop culture.  

She is the author of many works that focus on youth, gender, racism, language, culture, philosophy, identity, sociolinguistics, discourse and interaction. These include the Oxford Handbook of Language and Race (2020) publication “We Don’t Play: Black Women’s Linguistic Authority Across Race, Class, and Gender,” the Daedulus (2011) publication “Hiphop and the Global Imprint of a Black Cultural Form” (with Dionne Bennett), “The World is Yours: The Globalization of Hiphop Language” (2016), and her manuscripts: Language, Discourse and Power in African American Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2002), The Real Hiphop - Battling for Knowledge, Power, and Respect in the Underground (Duke University Press, 2008), Speech Communities (Cambridge University Press, 2014), and more.

Briana Wood

'22CC, African American and African Diaspora Studies

Briana is a rising senior in Columbia College majoring in African American and African Diaspora studies, with focus on literature, and minoring in public health. She is originally from Stone Mountain, Georgia. On campus, she holds board positions on the Columbia Black Students’ Organization and Columbia Proud Colors, teaches with Peer Health Exchange, and co-hosts a southern hip-hop radio show on WBAR. She is also the recipient of a Columbia Racial Justice Mini-Grant, through which she has co-founded and co-led an undergraduate thesis working group for Black students.