A gospel pioneer explores Africa

A gospel pioneer explores Africa

Rodeheaver, Homer A. (1880-1955). Singing black; twenty thousand miles with a music missionary. Chicago, Ill., Philadelphia, Pa., Rodeheaver Co., 1936. 96 pp; 21 cm. Frontispiece, photographs. Second printing, with additional materials. A fine copy in wrappers.

     One of the giants of evangelical hymnody in the early twentieth-century, Rodeheaver's collaboration with Billy Sunday paralleled the partnership between Ira Sankey and Dwight L. Moody a generation earlier. His gospel hymns were widely published, and he cut 500 sides with the Victor Talking Machine Company and other record labels.

     As a recent book notes, Rodeheaver's compositions merged evangelical hymns with African American spirituals to create a new gospel style that would become dominant in American culture. He sought out work by African American musicians, making recordings of jubilee-style spirituals. Although he refers to himself in the title of this book as a missionary, he makes it clear in the introduction that the primary purpose of his journey was not to spead the word but to appreciate more deeply Black music in America: "I made this trip to Africa to find out the sources of the [N]egro spirituals."

      Rodeheaver's preferred instrument was the trombone. Did his African tour have any impact on local musical practices?

Selected References

  • Kevin Mungons and Douglas Yeo, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry. University of Illinois Press, 2021

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