Technologies of Gospel

Circuits and Networks of Sacred/Secular Innovation

Charleston: A Personal Spotify Playlist

by | Jun 17, 2016 | Methodism

This week began with an anticipation of a difficult anniversary: the one-year anniversary of the Charleston mass-murder, in which 9 laypersons and clergy lost their lives to a white supremacist millennial youth while praying in Mother Bethel AME Church. In the midst of that anticipation, the country experienced its most lethal mass-murder involving a single shooter at an Orlando, Florida gay bar.

These are moments that make you question your own mortality and place in the world. In times like these, you need an anchor.

I came up with this collection of Gospel, Spirituals, and classical selections as a personal reflection on my own artistic development growing up in an African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) clergy family, and in a more roundabout way, my own path into analytical, systematic thinking, and the STEAM fields. I thought to share it with my readers.


While the Baptists and Pentecostals have contributed greatly to popular music styles including rock and roll, funk, R&B, and roots/blues, the traditions of Black Methodism have kept the light of our forefathers burning in the classical tradition, art song, Negro Spiritual and jubilee choral singing, and classic Hollywood spheres of influence.

This tradition goes back a long way and is packed to the gills with “firsts”. The first Black hymnal ever published was contributed by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1801.

The Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy, was an AMEC pastor’s son.

As you listen to the playlist, allow me to highlight the AMEC artists represented here, and let that be a context for today’s remembrance of the #Charleston9 and the cultural traditions they died upholding.

Let it sustain you, as it has sustained us, since 1787.

Hall Johnson

1. “I’ve Heard of A City Called Heaven” Hall Johnson Choir

4. “Certainly Lord” Roberta Martin Singers, traditional arr. by Hall Johnson, Adapted by The Roberta Martin Singers

9. “He Brought Joy to My Soul” Ethel Waters and Her Ebony Four

13. “I’ve Been ‘Buked and I’ve Been Scorned” The Georgia Spiritual Ensemble

19. “Ride On King Jesus” Leontyne Price, Leonard de Paur

The prolific Hall Johnson was an AMEC bishop’s son whose arranging and conducting talents took him to Harlem, Broadway, and into the sound age of Hollywood. An in-studio protege of Dmitri Tiomkin, the Hall Johnson sound became the go-to for the Spirituals sound, flourishing in titles like Cabin in the Sky (1943), Lost Horizon (1937), and The Green Pastures (1936).

Jester Hairston

12. “Hold On”
San Marcos High School Madrigal Singers

Having trained with the Hall Johnson Choir in the 1930s, Dr. Jester Hairston followed his mentor to Hollywood where he became renown for “Amen”, the feature tune of Lilies of the Field (1960). Along with Southern California’s, Albert McNeil, Hairston also went on to sustain the choral/performance tradition of the Negro Spirituals in a cultural climate and time period in which all things “Negro” and the painful reminders of the psychic and physical hardships of slavery and segregation eras had fallen out of fashion in favor of assertions of Black Power. Hairston never left his AME roots, conducting Conference choirs in “the connection”. My mother, Rev. Dr. Lily Johnson, sang as a soprano in the Southern California Conference chorus during these years.

Nina Simone

6. “Take Me to the Water”

10. “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands”

Minimalist touches of Elgar and the straightforward add an AME flavor to Nina Simone’s arrangement of the traditional “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands”, while the second verse of “Take Me to the Water” showcases classic AME piano arrangement. Most people are familiar with Nina Simone’s boundary-defining artistry, but many aren’t aware that this talent was honed as a member of an AMEC clergy family in North Carolina. What’s striking about Nina Simone is the crossroads of blues, gospel, and especially classical proficiency.

Leontyne Price

16. “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord”
Arr. by
Florence B. Price

19. “Ride On King Jesus”
Leonard de Paur, arr. by Hall Johnson

Following in the footsteps of Baptist operatic mezzo Marian Anderson and opening the door wider for Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verritt, Barbara Hendricks, and Kathleen Battle lyric Leontyne Price grew up in the AMEC tradition.



African Methodist Episcopal Church Bicentennial Hymnal. 1984. Musical score.

Caldwell, Hansonia L. African American Music: A Chronology, 1619-1995. Los Angeles, CA: Ikoro Communications, 1996. Print.

“Hall Johnson”. Internet Movie Database. Accessed Jun. 17 2016. Web.

Higginbotham, Evelyn B, Leon F. Litwack, and Darlene C. Hine. The Harvard Guide to African-American History. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2001. Print.

“Jester Hairston”. Internet Movie Database. Accessed Jun. 17 2016. Web.

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. New York: Norton, 1983. Print.

Wiencek, Henry. The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Print.

Wright, Richard R. The Encyclopaedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church…. Philadelphia, 1947. Print.

Further reading:

Boyer, Horace C. Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal. New York, N.Y: Church Pub, 1993. Musical score.

Campbell, James T. Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Print.

George, Carol V. R. Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Emergence of Independent Black Churches, 1760-1840. New York: Oxford U.P, 1973. Print.

Handy, William C. Father of the Blues: An Autobiography. New York: Da Capo, 1991. Print.


Focus on Jester Hairston

There’s a lot of fun footage of Jester Hairston in action. Classic AMEC vocal training

Here’s Hairston dubbing Sidney Poitier’s vocals for his well-known tune “Amen”, in Lilies of the Field (1960)

Historically Black Methodism in Action

The senior bishops of the three Black Methodist sisters, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AME Zion) this week distributed a joint statement of support for those lost in the latest American mass-murder in Orlando, Florida.
The victims were overwhelmingly LGBTQ Latino and Black young people.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This