Old South Church Continues Celebrating Black History Month on Sundays

Old South Church will continue to celebrate Black History Month every Sunday in February, with a special program called “Roots of Black Music in America.”

During Sunday All-Church Worship throughout the month, the church is featuring Black History Moments, which tells the story behind each featured Black music genres, including Spirituals, Protest Songs, Jazz, and Gospel.

This project is a collaboration between (G)RACE Speaks leader Tracy Keene, Minister of Music Mitchell Crawford, Gospel Choir Director Tim Harbold, and Director Tim Harbold, and Director of Children and Family Ministries Kate Nintcheu.

The first Black History Moment on Feb. 6 focused on Spirituals and examined musicians Mahalia Jackson and Harry T. Burleigh.

On Feb. 13, Songs of Protest  will “illustrate distinct moments in history, and the music that rose up to accompany those struggles,” according to the church’s website, and feature R&B singer H.E.R., as well as a tribute to Odetta (Holmes), the late American folk singer and civil and human rights activist often referred to as the “Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.”

The Feb. 20 Black History Moment on Jazz, will explore the work of two of the genre’s legends, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.

Finally, the Feb. 27 program on Gospel music will spotlight musicians Thomas A. Dorsey and Aretha Franklin.

Black History Moments are taped in advance and  shown in the sanctuary on a large screen as part of the sermon and also broadcast via Zoom, said Keane.

Community Hour – a forum discussion at 11 a.m. every Sunday in February, both in person and on Zoom – will continue to explore that week’s selected genre of Black Music.

The first Community Hour on Feb. 6 focused on Spirituals and included a discussion of the 1982 documentary film, “Say Amen, Somebody,” directed by George Nierenberg, about “the history and significance of gospel music as told through the lives and trials of its singers,” according to the church’s website.

Upcoming Community Hours include a discussion on  “Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands,” a documentary available on Amazon Prime and PBS Passport exploring the life and legacy of the famous singer who became an icon for the civil rights movement, on Feb. 13; a conversation about “Respect,” a film available on Amazon Prime that follows the rise of Aretha Franklin’s career from a child singing in her father’s church’s choir to international superstardom, on Feb. 20; and “Paying it Forward: The Negro Spiritual Royalties Project,” which looks at how United Parish in Brookline is recognizing and paying “royalties” to the Black creators of Negro spirituals commonly sung in churches by directly supporting the development of young Black musicians on Feb. 27.

In anticipation of the final Community Hour on Feb. 27, Keane said, “Old South Church is just starting to get educated on what reparations mean and finding a starting point for the dialogue.”

The (G)RACE Speaks Committee will also be hosting a four-part anti-racist curriculum  on the last two Sundays of this month – Feb. 20 and 27 – as well as the second and third Sundays of next month: March 13 and 20, said Keane.

Learn more about Old South Church’s programming, committee, and projects on racial justice at oldsouth.org/racial-justice

To promote Black History Month at Old South Church, Jamie Garuti, the church’s multimedia director, is creating a poster to spotlight each week’s musical theme, which will be posted outside the church at the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth streets.

Minister of Music, Mitchell Crawford,  is also selecting psalms for each Sunday sermon that are pertinent to each week’s music genre.

 “We’re taking a holistic approach to how we’re doing this,” said Keane.

 The ministers preaching each Sunday throughout February are even peppering their sermons with references to the selected genre.

Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, senior minister at Old South Church, preached on the topic of Spirituals during her Feb. 6 sermon.

Members of the church were descendants of four enslaved individuals, so for her sermon, Rev. Taylor said she touched on “how Spirituals would’ve spoken to them and how life-affirming they were.”

“Spirituals were everything to the enslaved.,” she said. “They were the hope that had been denied by their oppressors, they were an open door, and they were a taste of freedom.”

Moreover, Spirituals come largely from the Bible, as Rev. Taylor is quick to point out.

“Look at Daniel in the Lion’s Den, when the slaves would say, ‘if God can save Daniel, why can’t he save us?’ and ‘if God can free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, why can’t they free us from slavery on this soil?’” she said.

In her sermon, Rev. Taylor also looked at the legacy of Howard Thurman, who become the first dean at a mostly white university when he was named the dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, and was a mentor to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when the future civil rights leader was pursuing  his PhD in systematic theology at BU.

Thurman once descried the Spiritual as  “proof of us, also exitance of songs is a monument to one of most striking instances on record in which a people forge a weapon of offense and defense out of a phycological shackle,” while Rev. Tayor defines the genre as “redemptive music helped oppressed people rediscover real Christianity.”

Meanwhile, Keane encourages the public to take a tour of Old South Church in February to “get a history lesson during Black History Month.”

To learn more about Black History Month at Old South Church, visit https://oldsouth.org/black-history-month.

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