Scholarly Editions

Sounding Spirit publishes annotated facsimile editions that illustrate the significance of texts and textual communities to American musical history and practice. The first round of the series features five volumes of southern sacred vernacular music books published between 1850 and 1925. Sounding Spirit pioneers a unique approach to scholarly editing that weds digital innovation with rigorous research. Each Sounding Spirit edition includes an introduction, page-level annotations that speak to the text’s significance, and data visualizations contextualizing details of the text’s construction, circulation, and use in cultural context. Editions are published in digital and print form by the University of North Carolina Press and the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship.

A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities Scholarly Editions and Translations program funds the first round of scholarly editions that highlight the role of southern, sacred vernacular texts in American music history and practice. These five volumes represent periods, places, and genres key to illustrating the importance of vernacular songbooks to the history of American sacred music. The editions feature black and white gospel songs, spirituals, and shape-note singing traditions. Volumes are edited by genre specialists whose work is supported by the Sounding Spirit project team.

The Cherokee Singing Book

The Cherokee Singing Book (1846)

Edited by Sara Snyder

The Cherokee Singing Book was published in a single thousand-copy run in 1846 for use by Cherokee churches in what is present day Oklahoma. The Singing Book was translated by white missionary Samuel Worcestor and Cherokee Christian convert Stephen Foreman. Worcestor corresponded with Boston composer and music educator Lowell Mason throughout the development of the project, ultimately including a selection of vocal music associated with the musical reform movement that Mason championed. The Singing Book contains the only music primer published in the Cherokee language followed by several dozen hymns translated from English into Cherokee set to these reform style four-part songs. Never reprinted, the only remaining original copies are housed in a handful of archives. 

The Singing Book is a product of the post-contact and post-Removal (1838, Trail of Tears) period during which missionaries and indigenous Christians undertook intense “civilizing” and “Christianizing” efforts throughout the Cherokee Nation. 

Featured in Sounding Spirit to illuminate the historical disenfranchisement, displacement, and wide-scale social upheaval happening in the Cherokee Nation, this edition will explore the relationship between indigenous experience and colonizing American musical practices. The emphasis on indigenous language, music, and worldview de-centers readings of American hymnody that privilege white, urban, and Protestant traditions. In addition to the Singing Book’s historical significance, a reprint of the book will aid Cherokee language revitalization efforts. To facilitate this particular use, the edition will include both annotations and a full digital interlinear translation of the text. A translation of the text will make it accessible to those who do not speak Cherokee, but more importantly, it will serve scholars and Cherokee community members engaged in Cherokee language revitalization in both Cherokee, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.

The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs

The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs (1875)

Edited by Sandra Jean Graham

J. B. T. Marsh’s The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs (1875) is a significant early edition of the pioneering compilation of spirituals sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers first published as Jubilee Songs (1872). Marsh’s 1875 edition was the first to include spirituals transcribed by Jubilee singer, accompanist, and assistant director Ella Sheppard. Printed after competing ensembles began mimicking the Fisk Singers’ sounds and strategies, this edition’s contents reflect the presence of the Hampton Institute singers in the Jubilee-singing landscape. By the early twentieth century, spirituals formed a major stream of American vernacular music, due in part to the visibility of the Fisk Jubilee singers. Near-annual editions of Jubilee Songs sold over 130,000 copies into the early twentieth century. Its solo and four-part a cappella settings popularized songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Roll, Jordan, Roll,” and “Go Down, Moses.”

Featured in Sounding Spirit as a watershed publication marking the transition of spirituals from oral tradition to a print-based, mass cultural phenomenon, The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs documents a pivotal turn in southern sacred music. Foundational to the American popular music landscape, spirituals emerged as a form of black cultural expression in the antebellum South before their adaptation to a performance context. The critical digital and print editions of The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs will provide opportunity for rich engagement with this landmark text and its communities of use that span colorlines, class markers, and geographic boundaries.

Class, Choir, and Congregation

Class, Choir, and Congregation (1888)

Edited by Kevin D. Kehrberg

Class, Choir, and Congregation (1888) marks the transition from early nineteenth-century dispersed-harmony shape-note books to the gospel songbooks popular in the early decades of the twentieth century. A commercial success, Class, Choir, and Congregation sold 400,000 copies during its first twenty-five years in print. The text’s publication paralleled watershed moments in the history of both the southern and broader United States during the Gilded Age, including backlash over Reconstruction, railroad expansion and industrialization, the shifting economic and sectional identities of the New South, and the emerging Social Gospel movement. Editor A. J. Showalter of Dalton, Georgia, championed gospel music’s radical transformation in form, content, and context. His eponymous music publishing company sold millions of songbooks that pioneered the softbound, octavo-sized, annual new book publication format. These became a significant aspect of cultural life for Protestant, working-class, and predominantly white singing communities in the rural South as they negotiated impending aspects of modernity and navigated racial, social, religious, and political upheaval. Class, Choir, and Congregation and other Showalter publications later influenced gospel’s transformation from a practice driven by singing schools, convention networks, and music education to one buoyed by traveling quartets and radio shows.

Featured in Sounding Spirit as a prime example of the transitional era of early gospel music, Class, Choir, and Congregation demonstrates how texts both created and responded to white users’ negotiation of race, place, religion, and culture in an emergent modern context. The source of classic gospel hymns such as “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and “One by One We’ll All Be Gathered Home” that remain popular among white, black, and Native American congregations from a variety of denominations, Class, Choir, and Congregation also demonstrates the intersections of traditions and singers often represented as discrete.

Soul Echoes No. 2

Soul Echoes No. 2 (1909)

Co-edited by Emmett G. Price III and Horace Maxile, Jr.,
With Donté Ford, Joslyn Henderson, and Rylan Harris

Soul Echoes: A Collection of Songs for Religious Meetings, No. 2 was published by the Soul Echoes Publishing Company (Philadelphia, PA) in 1909. Edited and compiled by Bishop J. S. Caldwell, D. D.; Bishop L. J. Coppin, D. D.; Bishop G. L. Blackwell, D. D.; and Rev. C. A. Tindley, D. D., Soul Echoes was a joint project of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) and African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) denominations. Of the fifty-one songs assembled within this collection, a great majority are attributed to Rev. Charles Albert Tindley. A number of these selections remain treasured repertoire sung within Black Churches today, including “We’ll Understand It Better By and By,” “Some Day,” “The Storm is Passing Over,” “Stand By Me,” and the great Civil Rights Movement anthem, “We Shall Overcome”–“I’ll Overcome Some Day.”

Featured in Sounding Spirit to highlight an important period in United States and African American history that serves as a precursor to the Negro Renaissance via the Black Church, Soul Echoes is vital to our understanding of both the historic and contemporary Black Christian Experience. This largely forgotten text was one of the most important songbooks for religious gatherings both in the South and the Atlantic coast. This edition will chart that influence and examine and contextualize the work of Tindley, who overwhelmingly influenced Soul Echoes and whose legacy as a pioneering composer of Black gospel music remains underappreciated. Pioneering a unique mentoring model to invite intergenerational participation in this scholarly undertaking, the Soul Echoes edition will offer insights into the text’s role in shaping Black Church music and experience.

Original Sacred Harp

Original Sacred Harp (1911)

Edited by Jesse P. Karlsberg

Original Sacred Harp (1911) was the most widely adopted of competing early twentieth-century editions of The Sacred Harp, a seminal shape-note tunebook first published in 1844. In the mid-nineteenth century The Sacred Harp was the most commonly found book in southern households aside from the Bible, sustaining white and black  communities across a broad geography who sang from the text at both informal local gatherings and convention settings. Edited by an Atlanta-based committee of white Sacred Harp singers and prominent New South boosters, Original Sacred Harp pairs 578 songs with twelve pages of introductory material and a twenty-six-page pedagogical “rudiments of music” section. At the turn of the twentieth century, while white southerners memorialized the Civil War and antebellum period, large, interdenominational singing conventions promoted Sacred Harp singing as a way of negotiating anxieties about shifting social hierarchies in the contemporary South by embracing and whitewashing a contested past. Original Sacred Harp became the centerpiece of a popular participatory singing practice that persisted despite watershed changes in music performance and culture reshaping the modernizing New South.

Featured in Sounding Spirit to exemplify connections in shape-note singing between music genre, notation system, and bibliographic form, this scholarly edition of Original Sacred Harp demonstrates how its compilers and communities of use negotiated and leveraged race, place, music, and culture in the modernizing South. In addition to making key scholarly interventions, the critical digital and print editions of Original Sacred Harp will document history relevant to the contemporary shape-note singing community, including those across the United States and beyond who participate in singings and conventions featuring the book’s successor (The Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition).