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Berea’s Celebration of Traditional Music & African American Experience in Appalachia

Ajay Kalra, 2006 Appalachian Sound Archives Fellow, profiles and analyzes African American performers at Berea's Celebration of Traditional Music.

Religious Music Performers

Introductory treatments of playing styles, instrumentation, and repertoire arising from Kalra’s research and related audio files are available for African American CTM performers.

Ed Cabbell (1946- )

Ed CabbellEdward J. Cabbell, born 1946 and raised in McDowell County West Virgina, presently lives in Princeton, West Virginia. A preeminent Appalachian scholar and activist since 1969, he was the first African American to earn a graduate degree in Appalachian studies. In addition to being a historian of black culture, Cabbell is also an exceptional singer of a cappella folk spirituals, many of which he learned from the singing of his grandmother. During his performance at Berea, he also had some success in recreating the responsorial practice of antebellum spiritual singing by involving the audience in clapping, foot tapping, and “moaning.”

Berea College Black Music Ensemble

Berea College Black Music EnsembleIn the long lineage of concert music trained African American college choral groups that stretches back to the 1871 formation of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Berea’s Black Music Ensemble is well versed in most genres of African American religious music from the slave spiritual to the most contemporary sounds in commercial gospel recording. Although the ensemble has a membership usually exceeding sixty, depending upon context and repertoire, its members perform arrangements for solo, quartet, small group, or choir, a cappella or with a variable musical accompaniment. In addition to the recordings from the ensemble’s two CTM performances, Berea’s archives have extensive audio and video documentation of the evolution of the group’s style and repertoire over almost four decades and should provide interesting material for researchers interested in studying how upwardly mobile educated Appalachian blacks have integrated their older traditions with ever changing contemporary trends in popular and art music.

Sons of Glory

The Sons of Glory are a Wilmore, Kentucky based gospel quartet in the tradition of the popular groups from the 1940s and 1950s. At the time of their 1996 CTM appearance the group consisted of Joe Lincoln White, Robert White, Tom Meads, and Ernest McCann, all from a family singing tradition going back over a hundred years. At Berea, the Sons of Glory favored spare instrumentation with an electric guitar played in a Curtis Mayfield and Pops Staples inspired style and something simulating a bass drum.

Northern Kentucky Brotherhood

Northern Kentucky BrotherhoodThe Northern Kentucky Brotherhood of Covington, Kentucky appeared at Berea in both 1993 and 1995. By including five and six members respectively, they offer variations on the acappella gospel quartet sound. The additional members in the configuration allow for an easier and freer switching of roles between the leads and one of the harmony parts.

Tri-City Messengers

Tri-City MessengersThe Tri-City Messengers of Lynch, Kentucky were present for the 2002 CTM. By including five and six members respectively, this group offered variations on the acappella gospel quartet sound. The additional members in the configuration allow for an easier and freer switching of roles between the leads and one of the harmony parts.

The Mighty Gospel Harmonizers

The Mighty Gospel Harmonizers of Lexington, Kentucky sang at the 1997 CTM. They take their cue from the classic gospel quartet singing of such 1940s acts as the Golden Gate Quartet and the Swan Silvertones from Coalwood, West Virginia. The Harmonizers’ version of the popular traditional “Shine on Me,” for instance, takes after the Silvertones’ arrangement. (Shine on Me is likely a folk spiritual as it was recorded by a number of artists not particularly influenced by twentieth-century gospel including by the Rev. Gary Davis, Leadbelly, the Greenbriar Boys, and in a shape-note style by Ernest Phipps and the Phipps Family.) Their versions of “Gospel Train,” “Meeting At the Old Campground,” and “This Train (is Bound for Glory)” feature driving rhythms provided by electric bass, chopping electric rhythm guitar, and hand claps in the hard gospel style of the Golden Gates.