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Stage & Screen: The Star Quality of Vanderbilt's Performing Arts Collections: Gospel Music

God in Music City

God in Music City, 2008, was the culmination of the three year project “Music, Religion, and the South,” a research program for the Study of Religion and Culture at Vanderbilt University. God in Music City was devoted to promoting interdisciplinary research and developing teaching and learning experiences to explore how regional identity is shaped by religious and musical practice in Nashville. The events of God in Music City included discussions, performances, the release of a double CD, and an undergraduate course entitled “Music and Religion: God in Music City.”

photo caption: God in Music City, Greg Barz, Lime Pulp Record. LLC, 2008, CD, God in Music City Collection, Vanderbilt University Institutional Repository

Electronic Resources

Display items and audio/videos for the God in Music City exhibit are available from Institutional Repository, Vanderbilt's Institution Repository.


Mashup Religion: Pop Music and Theological Invention by John McClure and Living Water: Images, Symbols, and Settings of Early Christian Baptism by Robin Jensen were books that came out of Professors MdClure and Professor Jensen's three-year involovement in the program "Music, Religion, and the South." Listen to an interview with John and an interview with Robin, each conducted by Chris Benda, Divinity Theological Librarian.


Shape Note Singing

Shape note music utilizes the notes printed in special shapes, to help those who lack formal musical training sing at sight. The Sacred Harp, first published in 1844, exists today in various editions, which still are widely used by Protestant churches in the South. Sacred harp singing is the largest surviving branch of traditional American shape note singing.

photo caption: Rise My Soul:Old Harp Singers from Wear's Valley, 2001, CD, Southern Civilization Collection, Vanderbilt University Special Collections

The Sacred Harp

Among the numerous books printed with shape notes, The Sacred Harp has had staying power since the first edition was published in 1844. The Sacred Harp was compiled and edited by Benjamin Franklin White and E. J. King. It has been widely used in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. George Pullen Jackson mentioned in The Story of the Scared Harp 1844-1944 that "aside from the Holy Bible, the book found oftenest in the homes of rural southern people is without doubt the big oblong volume of song called The Sacred Harp." All Sacred Harp hymnals include 20-some pages of “Rudiments of Music” at the beginning of the book. The rudiments help the singers learn how to sing the collected pieces in the hymn books.

photo caption: B. F. White and E. J. King, The Sacred Harp: A Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes, Odes and Anthems (Atlanta: Jas. L. White, 1897), Sam Fleming Southern Civilization Collection, Vanderbilt University Special Collections

Special Collections Resources

A Selection of Shape-Note Folk Hymns
Call Number: M2.3 .U6 R4 v.52
The Colored Sacred Harp
Call Number: M2117 .J135 C6 1934
The Sacred Harp; or, Beauties of Church Music
Call Number: M2117 .M35 1857
Original Sacred Harp
Call Number: M2117 .O745 1936
The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion
Call Number: M2117 .W154 1854
The Sacred Harp
Call Number: M2117 .W59 S3 1870
The Missouri Harmony
Call Number: M2117 .M67 1837
A Companion to the New Harp of Columbia
Call Number: ML3188 .H37 2003

George Pullen Jackson

George Pullen Jackson studied at Vanderbilt University from 1900-01 and received a Ph.B., 1904 and a Ph.D., 1911 from the University of Chicago. He spent most of his career at Vanderbilt University, where he was the head of the Department of German. He distinguished himself in many fields as a professor of German language and literature, a leader of several musical associations, and a scholar in the research of American folklore. His published works, White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands, University of North Carolina Press, 1933, and The Story of the Sacred Harp, Vanderbilt University Press, 1944, provide essential information on the historical development of Sacred Harp singing in the United States. 

photo caption: [Jackson (third right) and his associates of the Southeastern Folklore Society outside of the Ryman Auditorium in 1934], photograph, Francis Robinson Collection, Vanderbilt University Special Collections

Books written by George Pullen Jackson

White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands
Call Number: ML3551 .J2
Spiritual Folksongs of Early America
Call Number: M1629 .J147 S85
White and Negro Spirituals, Their Life Span and Kinship
Call Number: ML3551 .J17
The Story of the Sacred Harp
Call Number: ML3111 .J12
American Folk Music for High School and Other choral Groups
Call Number: M1629 .J134 A4
Another Sheaf of White Spirituals
Call Number: M1629 .J134 A5


For more informaton about the exhibit Gospel Music, please contact Charlotte Lew.