Music is central to our worship services at Christ Church. We use music to celebrate and be joyful, to mourn and reflect, and to meditate and pray where words fail us. Just as our music serves multiple purposes during worship, our music comes from multiple sources - many different cultures, countries, religious traditions, and composers. My goal is to use music to represent our beautifully diverse congregation.
During the month of February, as we celebrate Black History Month, we will be highlighting the works of many African-American composers, as well as singing some traditional spirituals which parallel the African-American experience through slavery to freedom with religious texts and biblical stories. Since Lent begins in mid-February, we have the opportunity to highlight some joyous music early in the month and more reflective music later in the month.
Here are just a few of the African-American composers whose works we will share this month:
Doris Akers (1923-1995) was a prolific composer, writing over 500 gospel songs, including “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” and “Lead Me, Guide Me.” Moses Hogan (1957-2003) was an internationally renowned pianist and conductor, beloved in religious and education circles for his choral arrangements of spirituals. Wallace Cheatham (1945-2021) was a well-respected musician, educator, and researcher, bringing African-American music and opera to audiences and students through his work. Florence Price (1887-1953) was a prolific classical composer, writing over 300 works, and she was the first African-American woman to have a work performed by a major orchestra.
And if you pay close attention, you will note that we begin the first Sunday of February with an organ Prelude on “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and we will end the month by singing the hymn together. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by brothers James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson to be sung at a celebration for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. At the festival, it was sung by a chorus of 500 African-American school children. The song and poetry was so meaningful to this group of school children that they continued to sing the song, teaching it to their children and students, spreading the song throughout the South. Today, the song is known as the Black National Anthem, sung at sporting events and in Black churches throughout the United States.
“Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.”
–James Weldon Johnson
Director of Music Ministry
Christ Episcopal Church