WordPress Daily Prompt — Song
The WordPress Daily Prompt has taken me back down memory lane to the time I sang in an Aussie secular gospel choir. Our repertoire was mostly African-American spirituals. That probably sounds too weird for words, but somehow it worked. So why does an Aussie white sheila with no religious affiliation join a gospel choir? I’ll answer that with another question. Well, why not?
I can’t quite remember when I joined the Strange Weather Gospel choir, but it was probably about the time the issue of refugees was again rearing its ugly head in Australian politics, dividing communities and even families.
My choir had been going for years, but it wasn’t until we had the very good fortune of having the wonderful Eric Dozier as our choir director for about six weeks, that we truly appreciated the significance and the history of the songs we were singing. Eric teaches American-Negro spirituals to white folk, in fact to anyone who wants to learn, and he uses gospel music to break down cultural and racial barriers. Eric grew up in Bakewell, Tennessee, and was a member of a black Baptist Church there. He sang with his mother in the choir, and learnt piano from his father. He was also for a time the Choir Director of the Harlem Gospel Choir.
For me, singing in a gospel choir was a valuable history lesson and a way to fill gaps in my understanding and experience.
“There’s nothing like hearing a spiritual without understanding that it’s a radical statement.” Bernice Johnson Reagon
(Bernice Johnson Reagon has for over 40 years been singing, preaching and teaching traditional African American music and its cultural history.)
In my trawl down memory lane, I watched one of Eric’s TedEx presentations delivered in his home state. It was painful. Speaking to a mainly white audience, it was clear that the audience knew neither the American-Negro spirituals nor the songs of the civil rights’ movement that emerged from these songs. Or perhaps, they were a little uptight; not quite comfortable with all that those songs signified. As Eric’s grandfather said to him, spirituals were not meant for just African-Americans, but were meant for everyone.
It has made me think that I know very few protest songs of Australia’s First Peoples, or any songs sung in language (of which there are many languages and probably many songs). And, that makes me think that change is an even longer time coming here too.