“Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee”

William T. Dargan

in Lining Out the Word

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 2006 | ISBN: 9780520234482
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928923 | DOI:
“Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee”

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The first illustration in Black Art and Culture in the Twentieth Century, by Richard Powell, is of a late-seventeenth-century slave drum whose unchanging appearance is significant because African rituals and music making were legally suppressed after the Stono Rebellion of 1739 in South Carolina. A century later, ministers taught slaves to turn from their own “heathenish” songs to the hymns of Isaac Watts. The continuity of unaccompanied congregational singing in congregations where Dr. Watts remains vital suggests the importance of lining out to subsequent genres and forms. Lining out became the primary slave model for Standard English-language singing in Christian worship. The history of Dr. Watts hymn singing balances between persistent African continuities and the perpetual change factors—such as migration and especially language contact—that have shaped the practice of Christianity among African Americans. Although the consistent importance of speech rhythms to black music is clear at least as far back as nineteenth-century congregational singing, the specifics of the African and Anglo-American origins of speech rhythms are not as clear.

Keywords: Isaac Watts; hymns; Dr. Watts; hymn singing; slaves; congregational singing; lining out; worship; speech rhythms; black music

Chapter.  7310 words. 

Subjects: American Music

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