African American Studies Folklore
by
Jerrilyn McGregory
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0033

Introduction

Folklore manifests in the everyday, with a certain taken-for-grantedness that appears self-evident to all, and thus devoid of much interpretation. Usually relegated to being synonymous with falsehoods and superstition, folklore is not static but speaks to its own dynamism. Whether employed in academe or by the public sector, folklorists provide a lens through which to focus on the identification, documentation, and analysis of underrepresented groups and their cultural expressions. Foundational definitions based on concepts such as tradition, oral transmission, and anonymity easily have become obsolete. Tradition gives way to emergent structures; word of mouth bows to the reality of transmission by other means; and anonymity is uprooted by written and digitized texts. Also, folklore subsumes folklife, which references material traditions such as food preparation and quilting as well as folk arts and crafts. Customs related to ritual, festival, and holidays add another dimension to folklore study. Foremost, folklore continues to be germane in our lives, indicative of living traditions.

General Overviews

As pertains to African American studies, in 1888, the founder of the American Folklore Society and editor of the first Journal of American Folklore, William Newell, identified African American folklore to be an appropriate focus of interest, since an “indissoluble part of the [United States] body politic” (p. 5). Driven by the popularizing of animal tales by white writers such as Joel Chandler Harris, Newell emphasized the study of southern African American folklore, anticipating that migration to the North would contribute to its demise. Numerous anthologies, privileging African American folklore, suggest otherwise. For instance, affiliated with the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes and Bontemps 1958 is a coedited comprehensive collection representative of African American cultural production, including urban genres. Dundes 1981 constitutes another milestone as a publication organizing, under one cover, important previously published journal articles with scholarly headnotes. Levine 1977 is a monograph offering an extensive interrogation of African American history, life, and culture. Published by Norton, for undergraduates, Dance 2002 is one of the first textbooks devoted to African American folklore, replete with color photography. Prahlad 2006 is the first three-volume encyclopedia, containing 700 entries and covering many aspects of the discipline. Prahlad also guest edited a special issue devoted to African American folklore in the Journal of American Folklore (Prahlad 2005).

  • Dance, Daryl Cumber. From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore. New York: Norton, 2002.

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    With scholarly notations, a groundbreaking anthology organized to be nearly exhaustive by including thirteen genres of African American folklore: “Folktales,” “Folk Music,” “Stylin’ Out,” “Folk Arts and Crafts,” “Sermons and Speech,” “Family Folklore,” “Soul Food,” “Proverbs,” “Folk Rhymes,” “Riddles,” “Folk Beliefs,” “Urban Legends,” and “Techlore.”

    Dance, Daryl Cumber. From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore. New York: Norton, 2002.

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  • Dundes, Alan. Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrel: Readings in the Interpretation of Afro-American Folklore. New York: Garland, 1981.

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    Reprints of widely scattered and extremely diverse classic essays drawn from popular periodicals and scholarly journals, written by luminaries such as Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Alan Lomax, and Claudia Mitchell-Kernan. Its contents exemplify a range of folkloristic selections divided into eight chapters: “Folk & Lore,” “Origins,” “Folk Speech,” “Verbal Art,” “Folk Belief,” “Folk Music,” “Folk Narrative,” and “Folk Humor.”

    Dundes, Alan. Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrel: Readings in the Interpretation of Afro-American Folklore. New York: Garland, 1981.

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  • Hughes, Langston, and Arna Bontemps. The Book of Negro Folklore. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1958.

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    Although dependent on listing folklore items, without notation, this is an important anthology offering a sampling of African American folklore along with prose and poetry “in the folk manner.” Because they are included here, many prose narratives, such as “The Legend of the Flying African” and the female trickster figure “Annie Christmas,” remain extant.

    Hughes, Langston, and Arna Bontemps. The Book of Negro Folklore. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1958.

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  • Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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    Critically acclaimed, the text synthesizes the experiences of African Americans from 1840 to circa 1950, examining religion, music, humor, folktales, folk belief, and urban verbal art forms.

    Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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  • Prahlad, Anand. “African Folklore.” In Special Issue: History and Challenges. Edited by Anand Prahlad. Journal of American Folklore 118 (2005): 253–270.

    DOI: 10.1353/jaf.2005.0035Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Editor of this special issue, Prahlad clarifies the impact of Africana folklore on the development of cultures in the Western Hemisphere. His article speaks to historical weaknesses by folklorists focusing on groups marginalized by geography, class, and race, suggesting group homogeneity. This issue answers a call for greater engagement with transnational perspectives, folklore, and politics as well intraracial issues.

    Prahlad, Anand. “African Folklore.” In Special Issue: History and Challenges. Edited by Anand Prahlad. Journal of American Folklore 118 (2005): 253–270.

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  • Prahlad, Anand. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

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    Truly encyclopedic, entries validate not only African American expressive culture, but also, with inclusivity, situate folk groups throughout the African diaspora as well as current scholars of African American folklore.

    Prahlad, Anand. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

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History of African American Folklore Study

To demonstrate the scope of folklore study, it is necessary to review its intellectual and cultural history, principally by African American folklorists and institutions. Not intended to be exhaustive, this section identifies salient contributors to the discipline by academically trained folklorists. Seward 1983 provides a particularized history delineating early African American folklore scholarship in this landmark anthology of folklore research. Centering the roles played by African American folklorists and authors, Moody-Turner 2013 contextualizes the developmental stage of the field in its infancy, during the post-Reconstruction period. The author reveals the role of the Hampton Institute and its Folklore Society in challenging the racialized methodologies revered by white members of the American Folklore Society and discusses authors Paul Laurence Dunbar and Charles Chesnutt, writing in a white supremacist age. With connections to the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston published Mules and Men, which is now heralded as prophetic in its turn toward feminism, autoethnography, and extratextual manipulations (Hurston 1990). Franz Boas is the anthropologist generally recognized as Hurston’s mentor; but Boas assigned her to assist Melville Herskovits at Columbia University (Herskovits 1958). Another contemporary of Hurston and the first African American vice president of the American Folklore Society, John Mason Brewer published four major collections of folktales from the Brazos in Texas and a marquee anthology of African American folklore (Brewer 1968). With the introduction of folklore graduate programs, the authors of Fry 1975, Morgan 1980, and Davis 1985 surfaced as African American predecessors in the field, who published cutting-edge analytical studies focusing on the Night Doctor tradition, family folklore, and African American sermons, respectively.

  • Brewer, John Mason. American Negro Folklore. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1968.

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    Brewer primarily dedicated his life to collecting African American folklore from those formerly enslaved and their descendants. He includes some generally underrepresented genres (proverbs, rhymes, riddles, and names) and prose narratives, noting a rare legendary female trickster, Aunt Dicy.

    Brewer, John Mason. American Negro Folklore. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1968.

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  • Davis, Gerald L. I Got the Word in Me and I Can Sing It, You Know: A Study of the Performed African-American Sermon. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

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    Ethnographic research, in keeping with the paradigmatic shift in folklore study to embrace performance theory, permeated with sermonic texts, is featured in this text. Davis produces a deep structural analysis of their logic, interior structure, themes, theological principles, and use of nonarticulated sound. Most suited for graduate students.

    Davis, Gerald L. I Got the Word in Me and I Can Sing It, You Know: A Study of the Performed African-American Sermon. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

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  • Fry, Gladys-Marie. Night Riders in Black Folk History. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975.

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    Employs narratives of former slaves collected under the Works’ Progress Administration and extensive interviews of their descendants to substantiate the intimidation techniques designed by the Ku Klux Klan and others bent on exerting psychological control to terrorize African Americans. To document the fear factor induced, Fry’s fieldwork methodology incorporates historical evidence gained from oral interviews with African Americans in Washington, DC.

    Fry, Gladys-Marie. Night Riders in Black Folk History. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975.

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  • Herskovits, Melville J. The Myth of the Negro Past. Boston: Beacon, 1958.

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    Written to debunk the controversial study, An American Dilemma, which upheld the stereotype that African Americans possessed no culture of their own. Herskovits interjected his own fieldwork research in Africa and its Diaspora to refute variants of this generalized myth, debunking five widely held pejorative beliefs about African American culture being merely imitative in quality.

    Herskovits, Melville J. The Myth of the Negro Past. Boston: Beacon, 1958.

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  • Hurston, Zora Neale. Mules and Men. New York: Perennial Library, 1990.

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    The first collection consistent with African American folk culture, Hurston faced derision from folklorists, literary critics, and authors such as Richard Wright. Now, Hurston’s fictionalized contexts register as sheer genius. By not focusing on the folktales, she contextualizes gender politics, theorizes the acculturation process, and offers a pioneering autoethnography. She also treats voodoo in New Orleans.

    Hurston, Zora Neale. Mules and Men. New York: Perennial Library, 1990.

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  • Moody-Turner, Shirley. Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013.

    DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781617038853.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Innovative research discloses an alternative genealogy for the African American folklore study and 19th-century African American literary content. Moody-Turner blatantly relates African American folklore study to the racial politics of the historic Jim Crow era.

    Moody-Turner, Shirley. Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013.

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  • Morgan, Kathryn L. Children of Strangers: The Stories of a Black Family. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980.

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    At a time when most folklorists still situated African American cultural traditions in the rural South or among the urban poor, with middle-class aspirations, Morgan situates her Philadelphia family’s personal experience narratives as buffers to ensure future success.

    Morgan, Kathryn L. Children of Strangers: The Stories of a Black Family. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980.

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  • Seward, Adrienne Lanier. “The Legacy of Early Afro-American Folklore Scholarship.” In Handbook of American Folklore. Edited by Richard M. Dorson, 48–56. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.

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    Surveys African American folklore, the debates waged, and the contributions of African American folklorists to the field’s scholarly development.

    Seward, Adrienne Lanier. “The Legacy of Early Afro-American Folklore Scholarship.” In Handbook of American Folklore. Edited by Richard M. Dorson, 48–56. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.

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Oral Genres

Folktales have been one of the most intensely studied genres of African American folklore. In West Africa, the term griot speaks to an oral concept endowed by nommo, denoting the magical power of words as a life force. Hale 1998 articulates the role of griots and griottes, men and women who earn professional acclaim as the keepers of history. One paradox regarding oral literature is its impermanence unless inscribed in writing. In the 19th century southern United States, the collection of African American folktales began in earnest, fueled by the success of southern writers from what is known as the Plantation School of Literature. Donna Campbell’s web page distills a copious amount of details related to these local color writers of the South (Campbell 2015). Folklorist Richard Dorson, a great proponent of tale-type indexing to determine transmission routes, ultimately determining them to be of European origin, continued this ideology in his study of northern African American migrant populations (Dorson 1956). Folklorist John Roberts contests such past myopic, Eurocentric approaches in the process of interrogating the trickster tale tradition, the conjurer as folk hero, and the bad man as outlaw hero (Roberts 1989). Yet other verbal art forms enliven the African American oral tradition. Abrahams 1970 inaugurated interest in urban verbal art forms, including jokes, signifying, toast poetry, and the dozens (currently popularized as “yo mama” jokes). Other scholars, in works such as Dance 1978, Gates 1988, Jackson 2004, and Kelley 1997, significantly augmented the research pertaining to African American orality, privileging jokes, signifying, toast poetry, and the dozens, respectively.

  • Abrahams, Roger D. Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia. Chicago: Aldine, 1970.

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    The revised edition opened up interdisciplinary interests in African American verbal art and urban culture, previously viewed pejoratively. Ethnographic analysis and, more importantly, the actual texts of toast poetry and jokes complete the volume, demonstrating the relationship between texts and the tellers.

    Abrahams, Roger D. Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia. Chicago: Aldine, 1970.

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  • Campbell, Donna M. “Regionalism and Local Color Fiction, 1865–1895: Literary Movements.” Pullman: Washington State University, 2015.

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    Defines and characterizes what is known as the Plantation School of Literature in conjunction with providing links to its practitioners (Joel Chandler Harris, Thomas Nelson Page, and Thomas Dixon) as well as the African American writers (Charles Chesnutt and Frances E. W. Harper) who satirized and demythologized them.

    Campbell, Donna M. “Regionalism and Local Color Fiction, 1865–1895: Literary Movements.” Pullman: Washington State University, 2015.

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  • Dance, Daryl Cumber. Shuckin’ and Jivin’: Folklore from Contemporary Black Americans. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

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    Contains 565 individual pieces of African American folktales acquired in Virginia representing all social classes. Each of the sixteen thematic chapter’s content is first illuminated with rigorous candor and scholarly analysis.

    Dance, Daryl Cumber. Shuckin’ and Jivin’: Folklore from Contemporary Black Americans. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

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  • Dorson, Richard M. Negro Folktales in Michigan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674330252Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Dorson established folklore as an academic discipline in the United States and published the first book of African American folklore from the North. It contains 165 stories collected from forty-three men and twenty-five women living in six counties of southern and central Michigan. Although he utilizes European tale-type indexes to classify their tales, he makes a chief contribution to the field in attempting to capture the theatrical fervor of storytellers and their communities.

    Dorson, Richard M. Negro Folktales in Michigan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956.

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  • Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    Theorizes the “signifying monkey” tale as an indigenous metaphor for intertextuality in African American literature. Ultimately, it is the examination of the Yoruba trickster figure, Esu-Elegbara, in relation to the crossroad trope, that assists in centering signifyin(g) as an African American rhetorical practice.

    Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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  • Hale, Thomas A. Griots and Griottes: Masters of Words and Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

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    Keepers of history in West African societies, griots and griottes function as repositories; and in accordance with their roles, it is said that when a griot/griotte dies, a library burns to the ground. Hale addresses the nature of the verbal and musical art of these professionals as well as the future of these historians.

    Hale, Thomas A. Griots and Griottes: Masters of Words and Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

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  • Jackson, Bruce. Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me: African American Narrative Poetry from Oral Tradition. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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    The title derives from “The Titantic,” one of the best known recitations from the African American toast tradition. A predecessor to hip-hop culture, toast poetry is considered indispensable to the study not only of African American folklore, but also of American popular culture. Jackson collected his texts from incarcerated African American men, but this text has been bowdlerized.

    Jackson, Bruce. Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me: African American Narrative Poetry from Oral Tradition. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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  • Kelley, Robin D. G. Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional! Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America. Boston: Beacon, 1997.

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    Seeking to give voice to marginalized urban populations, Kelley positions “yo mama jokes” (known by academics as the “dozens”) as his underlying metaphor to combat conservative cultural critics’ stereotypes and sweeping generalizations. He notes how, in spite of all the scholarly treatment devoted to the subject, the dozens remains the most misinterpreted artistic expression.

    Kelley, Robin D. G. Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional! Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America. Boston: Beacon, 1997.

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  • Roberts, John W. From Trickster to Badman: The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

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    A theoretically substantive and methodologically useful book, from the vantage point of African cultural values, defying earlier ethnocentric interpretations of African American folk cultural heroes: the trickster, conjurer, and bad man.

    Roberts, John W. From Trickster to Badman: The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

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Music and Dance

A robust interrelationship of music, song, and dance continues to be the definitive aspect of African American expressive culture. This retention comprises an enduring continuum with deep roots from West African music and dance traditions. Therefore, this section intertwines the numerous distinguishable sacred and secular musical genres and vernacular dance forms that make up African American history, culture, and life.

Spirituals

In the United States, the so-called Negro spirituals were the vehicle used by enslaved Africans for the transmission of their hope. Scholars long debated their origin to the near exclusion of all else. Thomas Higginson, a white northerner who organized and led the first black regiment during the Civil War, ventured to publish the lyrics to twenty-eight of the songs he overheard, becoming the first interpreter to treat these creations respectfully (Higginson 1867). Best known for writing the black national anthem, James Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson, also compiled and edited a two-volume collection of these sacred songs (Johnson, et al. 2003). In his masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois references the Negro spirituals as sorrow songs, advocating that they yielded political and psychological advantages to those enslaved (Du Bois 2008). Later, African American theologians and musicologists waged another debate regarding the functionality of the songs, whether compensatory (otherworldly) or social commentary (resistance). Benjamin Mays accepted the prevailing view of enslaved Christians accepting their plight and strictly singing to petition for a heavenly existence (Mays 1968). On the other hand, John Lovell was the lone voice, writing a tome to support his contention of their African provenience based on hidden subversive messages (Lovell 1972). Cone 2000 offers a more dialectical analysis, deeming the music to be religious songs of resistance. Kathleen Abromeit fulfills the yeoman’s task of assembling an interdisciplinary and voluminous bibliography historicizing the spiritual publications since 1920 (Abromeit 2015).

  • Abromeit, Kathleen A. Spirituals: A Multidisciplinary Bibliography for Research and Performance. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2015.

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    In this annotated volume, Abromeit cites 1,000 articles, books, and dissertations representative of writings from music, literature and poetry, American history, religion, and African American studies. In addition, an appendix lists spirituals by biblical reference.

    Abromeit, Kathleen A. Spirituals: A Multidisciplinary Bibliography for Research and Performance. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2015.

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  • Cone, James H. The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000.

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    A proponent of black liberation theology, Cone clarifies the spiritual tradition functionally as well as sociologically. He opposed scholars who viewed the spirituals as devoid of a transcendent dimension.

    Cone, James H. The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000.

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  • Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Originally published in 1903. A seminal assessment presenting the spirituals as the soulful genius of enslaved Africans. With a spiritual selection as a prologue to each chapter, Du Bois embraced them as sorrow songs with the intent of conveying the songs to be laments about racial injustices so as to express a prayerful purpose.

    Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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  • Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. “Negro Spirituals.” The Atlantic Monthly. June 1867.

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    Without Higginson’s recognition of the importance of the spirituals, they would probably not have achieved general or academic awareness. For later publication, he surreptitiously collected them during the time he served as a colonel leading one of the first commissioned units of black troops during the Civil War. Yet, to his credit, in his analysis he treated these songs with the utmost respect.

    Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. “Negro Spirituals.” The Atlantic Monthly. June 1867.

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  • Johnson, James Weldon, J. Rosamond Johnson, and Lawrence Brown. The Book of American Negro Spirituals. New York: Da Capo, 2003.

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    Originally published in 1900. A rare book, these extraordinary brothers (one a writer and lyricist and the other a composer and musician) collaborated to mine what was then a neglected musical tradition to produce the greatest body of folksongs produced in America.

    Johnson, James Weldon, J. Rosamond Johnson, and Lawrence Brown. The Book of American Negro Spirituals. New York: Da Capo, 2003.

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  • Lovell, John. Black Song: The Forge and the Flame; The Story of How the Afro-American Spiritual Was Hammered Out. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

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    Encyclopedic, this tome numbers nearly 700 pages. Part 1 is entitled “The Forge” to commemorate a spiritual which suggests the hammering out of the songs. Ultimately, Lovell argues that spirituals exhibited African cultural influences, especially with respect to their social commentary. This publication is transnational in scope and should supply an answer to every demand.

    Lovell, John. Black Song: The Forge and the Flame; The Story of How the Afro-American Spiritual Was Hammered Out. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

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  • Mays, Benjamin E. The Negro’s God, as Reflected in His Literature. New York: Russell & Russell, 1968.

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    Mays wrote the first sociological study of African American religion, making his response to spirituals worthy of exploration. His “otherworldly” conclusion reflects the paradigm of the Chicago School, whose sociology program, founded by Robert E. Park at the University of Chicago, viewed African American culture as nonexistent.

    Mays, Benjamin E. The Negro’s God, as Reflected in His Literature. New York: Russell & Russell, 1968.

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Blues

The first generation out of slavery created this uniquely American-made music, which mutated into future popular musical forms such as rhythm and blues as well as rock and roll. Lomax 1993 traces the birth of blues with great specificity to the Mississippi Delta. Amiri Baraka, then known as LeRoi Jones, crafted a classic text privileging blues music within the context of its political and cultural milieus (Jones 1963). Critical analysis and interpretations by musicologists and folklorists, in works such as Keil 1966, Titon 1995 and Evans 1982, emerged rather belatedly, due to the failure of academicians to publish much prior research on blues, abdicating that task to blues enthusiasts. Jazz experienced a similar fate, but folklorists have not quite embraced jazz, which tends to incorporate folk music but remains a genre open to other musical styles. Pearson 1984 extends academic analysis via field interviews with bluesmen to construe the recurrent motifs prevalent in their collective experiences. Given that most of the scholarship and popular discourse regarding blues stemmed from white writers, Spencer 1993, written by an African American scholar, breaks new ground in countering the theme of blues being “devil’s music” with a theomusicological approach. With the rise of the blues tourism industry globally, King 2011 dissects the interplay among myth, authenticity, and public memory to expose the underbelly of Mississippi blues history. Finally, no study of the blues would be complete without acknowledging blueswomen. Davis 1999 constitutes a highly discerning analysis written through a feminist gaze.

  • Davis, Angela. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. New York: Vintage, 1999.

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    A corrective, which positions blueswomen as assuming a radical stance outside of the bourgeois value system. Moreover, the work includes Rainey and Smith’s extant lyrics in their entirety. It also recognizes Billie Holiday, a jazz singer, who fits the feminist ethos of the other women blues singers.

    Davis, Angela. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. New York: Vintage, 1999.

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  • Evans, David. Big Road Blues: Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

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    Concentrates on establishing a model of the folk blues tradition. Demonstrating the tacit reticence of folklorists to study this musical form, Evans negates the popularized urban blues because they were deemed less traditional. Yet he refers to all of the famous early blues figures such as Charlie Patton, Son House, and Bessie Smith.

    Evans, David. Big Road Blues: Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

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  • Jones, LeRoi. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: William Morrow, 1963.

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    Recently celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, this publication was a trailblazer. It gained classic status because of its insistence on taking a comprehensive look at the evolution of blues and New Orleans jazz.

    Jones, LeRoi. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: William Morrow, 1963.

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  • Keil, Charles. Urban Blues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.

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    An anthropologist, Keil relies on the participant-observation methodology to ignite blues scholarship by stressing the intense interaction between performer and audience. He profiles Bobby Bland and B. B. King as examples of urban blues as artistic communication.

    Keil, Charles. Urban Blues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.

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  • King, Stephen A. I’m Feeling the Blues Right Now: Blues Tourism and the Mississippi Delta. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011.

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    A major breakthrough locating this blues within the context of cultural tourism in the Mississippi Delta. In essence, King communicates how the delta business community turned a symptom of racial oppression into an economic asset. Furthermore, he does not sugarcoat the enterprise, especially blues festivals mired in false integrationist narratives, and the potential they hold in symbolizing 21st-century sharecropping for African American musicians.

    King, Stephen A. I’m Feeling the Blues Right Now: Blues Tourism and the Mississippi Delta. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011.

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  • Lomax, Alan. The Land Where the Blues Began. New York: Dell, 1993.

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    Winner of the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award, among other awards, the text furnishes a documentary account, giving voice to otherwise subaltern subjects. Lomax is exhaustive in his depiction of a life dedicated in witnessing the men and women who gave birth to a sound. An appendix provides a discography and filmography along with other resources.

    Lomax, Alan. The Land Where the Blues Began. New York: Dell, 1993.

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  • Pearson, Barry. “Sounds So Good to Me”: The Bluesman’s Story. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.

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    Pearson’s interviews function differently from most. He weaves from the interviewees personal experience narratives, a collective voice built upon their actual words, with the chapter titles conveying the commonality of themes, such as “I’m Gonna Get Me a Guitar If It’s the Last Thing I Do” and “I’ve Had Hard Luck, but It Will Change Some Day.” He balances these insiders’ perspectives with critical analysis.

    Pearson, Barry. “Sounds So Good to Me”: The Bluesman’s Story. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.

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  • Spencer, Jon Michael. Blues and Evil. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

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    Theomusicology translates to mean a theological study of blues to attest to the spiritual values of its creators, especially as relates to evil. Therefore, Spencer explores the mythologies, theologies, and theodicies of the blues. Original in its conception, this monograph not only contests, but also verbosely challenges the interpretation of the blues by many of his predecessors.

    Spencer, Jon Michael. Blues and Evil. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

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  • Titon, Jeff Todd. Early Downhome Blues: A Musical and Cultural Analysis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

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    Deemed a classic, now, and with a new publisher, Titon was among the first scholars to contribute to blues scholarship. With his transcriptions of songs, considered from the singers’ perspective, he established its traditionality and status as folk music.

    Titon, Jeff Todd. Early Downhome Blues: A Musical and Cultural Analysis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

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Gospel

Like blues, African American gospel music is ever evolving. An early precursor of gospel emanated from the African American invention of barber shop quartets. Gospel music’s origin conforms to the edict about African American musical development being consistent with what is happening sociologically. During the Great Depression, Thomas Dorsey arose, becoming the “Father of Gospel Music,” and a documentary film best showcases his contribution (Nierenberg 1982). His hymn, “Precious Lord,” and his mentorship of Mahalia Jackson secures his historical position. The introduction of gospel quartets propelled the advancement of stylistic sacred music performances leading to its professionalism. This time, appropriation occurred within African American culture leading to the establishment of R&B and soul. Edwin Hawkins ushered in the era of contemporary gospel with the release of the crossover hit, “O’Happy Day.” Lornell 1988 historicizes the ascent of gospel quartets in Memphis. Allen 1991 analyzes the gospel performances of semi-professional quartet groups in New York City. Although concentrating on the gospel music tradition in New Orleans, Jackson 1995 astutely condenses an analytical interpretation of its evolution. Hinson 2000 folows an experience-centered approach to gospel music, in general, from the standpoint of religious belief, in particular. Darden 2004 constitutes the most accessible scholarly study of this cultural tradition. Pollard 2008 privileges rich topic areas for the interrogation of contemporary gospel in speaking to its secularization.

  • Allen, Ray. Singing in the Spirit: African American Sacred Quartets in New York City. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.

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    Commencing with a history of African American churches and quartet singing in New York City, Allen deploys a critical ethnography and in-depth description to analyze the ritualized performances by African American sacred quartets, in situ. Interviews with practitioners along with transcripts of spoken words and lyrics isolate aesthetic complexities, pertaining to the role of testimonies, prayers, and sermons.

    Allen, Ray. Singing in the Spirit: African American Sacred Quartets in New York City. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.

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  • Darden, Robert. People Get Ready! A New History of Black Gospel Music. New York: Continuum, 2004.

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    Authored by a gospel music editor for Billboard magazine and advertised as a new history of African American gospel music, this treatise chronicles the incipience of musical styles from Africa through their refinement into contemporary gospel, with a discography of representative music. Expansive in his research, Darden brings a distinctive expertise, adding much to the scholarship about African American churches and sermons.

    Darden, Robert. People Get Ready! A New History of Black Gospel Music. New York: Continuum, 2004.

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  • Hinson, Glenn. Fire in My Bones: Transcendence and the Holy Spirit in African American Gospel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

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    The focus is on a single gospel service, which articulates the essence of the Holy Spirit’s influence on belief and experience in a sanctified African American church community. It is a stellar study of performance and belief, with ethnographic rigor that bespeaks the music’s relevance to church communities and, in a nuanced chapter, interrogates prayers.

    Hinson, Glenn. Fire in My Bones: Transcendence and the Holy Spirit in African American Gospel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

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  • Jackson, Joyce. “The Changing Nature of Gospel Music: A Southern Case Study.” African American Review 29.2 (1995): 185–200.

    DOI: 10.2307/3042290Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An article, published in a special music edition of African American Review, this reading fosters a more concise discussion of the genre’s evolution over time and space with an emphasis on its link to the spiritual as part of a continuum. This case study also describes the gospel scene in New Orleans, given its importance to the history of jazz.

    Jackson, Joyce. “The Changing Nature of Gospel Music: A Southern Case Study.” African American Review 29.2 (1995): 185–200.

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  • Lornell, Kip. Happy in the Service of the Lord: Afro-American Gospel Quartets in Memphis. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

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    Conjoins oral history interviews, participant-observation at churches as well as group rehearsals to document community-based gospel quartet singers. In the process, Lornell elaborates on the importance of spirituality in quartet performances. This study also highlights the roles of commercial radio stations and record companies in advancing Memphis quartet music, followed by a “Comprehensive Memphis Gospel Quartet Audiography.”

    Lornell, Kip. Happy in the Service of the Lord: Afro-American Gospel Quartets in Memphis. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

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  • Nierenberg, George, dir. Say Amen Somebody. DVD. Beverly Hills, CA: United Artists Classics, 1982.

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    Masterful feature film release exploring the lives and music of gospel music pioneers, featuring Thomas A. Dorsey, with Willie Mae Ford Smith, the Barrett Sisters, and the Oneal Twins.

    Nierenberg, George, dir. Say Amen Somebody. DVD. Beverly Hills, CA: United Artists Classics, 1982.

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  • Pollard, Deborah Smith. When the Church Becomes Your Party: Contemporary Gospel Music. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008.

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    Documents the controversy surrounding recent innovative changes within today’s African American religious communities, written by a gospel announcer who brings a unique perspectives. Pollard highlights the emergence of praise and worship service, the allegiance to gospel musical stage plays, the inclination toward more casual attire, the presence of women announcers, and the ministerial appropriation of holy hip-hop.

    Pollard, Deborah Smith. When the Church Becomes Your Party: Contemporary Gospel Music. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008.

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  • What Is Barbershop?.

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    Historicizes the generally unknown legacy of barbershop quartets, with the term itself originating among African Americans. Delineates barbershop harmony, a unique a cappella style of singing, as well as other contexts at the turn of the 19th century. The site offers valuable pdfs that further explicates the tradition.

    What Is Barbershop?.

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Hip-Hop

The folkloristic roots of hip-hop culture cannot be denied. Youth in the South Bronx, at the time one of the most economically depressed areas in the country, invented a culture through music, dance, graffiti art, and dress, along with their crews to establish a new sense of family. Published in London, Toop 1991 constitutes the trailblazing book on hip-hop, along with constructing a full context in terms of pre-rap music. The author of Rose 1994 was among the first to theorize hip-hop as a contemporary cultural production. Anthologies, like Droppin’ Science (meaning, vernacularly speaking, to inform audiences about an important topic), extended the discourse about this subculture with a multiplicity of orientations (Perkins 1996). Adding to the existing scholarship, Forman 2002 is more a tour de force of a text as an intervention to reified notions regarding locality and identity in hip-hop. Boyd 2002 (authored by Todd Boyd, aka “Notorious Ph.D.”) argues hip-hop’s transcendence into a post–civil rights movement. Katz 2012 adds another dimension to discourse about hip-hop and the evolutionary history of its DJs. Keyes 2004 provides the first musicological history of rap music. Forman and Neal 2012 is an edited hip-hop studies reader. Harvard’s Hiphop Archive and Research Institute maintains a comprehensive digitized bibliography for students and scholars, including links to fellowships and more. Its maintenance ensures a continuous updated source for a variegated spectacular culture.

  • Boyd, Todd. The New H.N.I.C. (Head Niggas in Charge): The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop. New York: New York University Press, 2002.

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    The title reflects Boyd’s thesis, declaring hip-hop as a new vanguard that replaces the civil rights movement as a cultural force. A cultural critic, obviously, his intent is to provoke by freeing hip-hop from a ghettoized pop culture stereotype into a political and social movement.

    Boyd, Todd. The New H.N.I.C. (Head Niggas in Charge): The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop. New York: New York University Press, 2002.

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  • Forman, Murray. The ‘Hood Comes First: Race, Space, and Place in Rap and Hip-Hop. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.

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    Garners numerous accolades for a fresh engagement of hip-hop’s spatial magnitude. It not only locates a niche from which to explore rap and hip-hop, but also capably sustains its theories to include radio, music videos, cinematic texts, and other commercial forces.

    Forman, Murray. The ‘Hood Comes First: Race, Space, and Place in Rap and Hip-Hop. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.

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  • Forman, Murray, and Mark Anthony Neal, eds. That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2012.

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    A newly expanded and revised second edition and a comprehensive volume, this reader compiles the scholarship of some of the most important intellectuals specializing in hip-hop today. Presented thematically, each subtext addresses topics essential to hip-hop with many pedagogical features to enhance undergraduate study.

    Forman, Murray, and Mark Anthony Neal, eds. That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2012.

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  • HipHop Archive and Research Institute. Hiphop Archive and Research Institute. Cambridge, MA: HipHop Archive and Research Institute.

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    The archive’s stated mission is to foster a new type of research and scholarship devoted to all the quintessential elements that inform hip-hop. The search engine allows for sorting the bibliography by author, title, and year. To its credit, the site is interdisciplinary and lists a wide range of articles in peer-reviewed academic journals.

    HipHop Archive and Research Institute. Hiphop Archive and Research Institute. Cambridge, MA: HipHop Archive and Research Institute.

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  • Katz, Mark. Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip Hop DJ. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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    Katz, a music historian, relies on qualitative research to capture the diachronic and synchronic moments in the evolution of hip-hop by interviewing experienced DJs. He acknowledges the roles innovation and competition play within DJ culture. The appendixes, too, are arresting. Therefore, this is one monograph suitable for undergraduate and graduate students alike.

    Katz, Mark. Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip Hop DJ. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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  • Keyes, Cheryl Lynette. Rap Music and Street Consciousness. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

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    Written by an ethnomusicologist for the University of Illinois Press’s distinguished Music in American Life series, it comprehensively represents the historical roots of hip-hop, supplies an extratextual analysis of rap lyrics, and, most seminally, offers one of the first thorough assessments of female rappers.

    Keyes, Cheryl Lynette. Rap Music and Street Consciousness. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

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  • Perkins, William Eric. Droppin’ Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

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    Written by leading hip-hop authorities on complex and controversial topics, this anthology addresses perennial concerns related to gender, misogyny, and violence. It offers an extensive bibliography of many early publications and pictorial profiles.

    Perkins, William Eric. Droppin’ Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

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  • Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1994.

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    Rose published the first ethnographic study of rap music within its social, cultural, and artistic contexts. This pioneering text articulates nuanced theories to situate hip-hop as an alternative culture with deep roots connecting it to African American oral traditions and aesthetics.

    Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1994.

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  • Toop, David. Rap Attack 2: African Rap to Global Hip Hop. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1991.

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    A revised overview of rap music’s early formation through its golden age leading into West Coast renditions. Definitely a text intended for both undergraduate students and general audiences.

    Toop, David. Rap Attack 2: African Rap to Global Hip Hop. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1991.

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Vernacular Dance

African American music notably enjoins adherents to dance; they are interconnected. The ring shout comprises the oldest surviving African American performance tradition in the United States. Surviving in McIntosh County in coastal Georgia, the dance is a democratizing force in the community. Rosenbaum and Buis 1998 affords an opportunity to witness a contemporary example of danced religion with African roots. The term shout is traced back to the Gullah dialect derived from saut, an Afro-Arabic word. Thompson 2014 draws evidence from travel journals, slave narratives, popular literature, and historical sources with which to explicate how black dance was perceived by white Europeans and Americans, also detailing the ring shout. Hazzard-Gordon 1990 (written by Katrina Hazzard-Gordon, aka Hazzard-Donald, a sociologist by academic training) offers the first analysis of the development of the jook, an underground cultural institution created by the African American working class. Malone 1996, written by a historian of African American dance, explores how dance is a pervasive, vital, and important means of cultural survival. DeFrantz 2002, an anthology, furthers African American dance scholarship, and serves as a tribute to the ninetieth birthday of famous dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham. Gottschild 2003, written by one of the most formidable dance critics of today, formulates a necessary testimony regarding race, dance, and the black body. Gaunt’s award-winning study of African American girls play deserves inclusion here based on the centrality of music and social dance in their commission of oral-kinetic games. One Web site is of great significance to performance traditions by people of African descent, Pancocojams, a blog curated by Azizi Powell, showcases the music, dances, and customs practiced throughout the world.

  • DeFrantz, Thomas. Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

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    Published as a tribute to African American dance archivist Joe Nash, this anthology introduces new scholarship by those knowledgeable of African American dance history and entrenched in actual dance practices. The text derives from a Congress on Research in Dance Special Topics Conference and reveals a complex history neglected by traditional dance studies.

    DeFrantz, Thomas. Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

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  • Gaunt, Kyra Danielle. The Girls Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

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    Gaunt acknowledges the inseparability of music and dance. However, it is her gendered perspective that is of greatest consequence. Authoritatively, the text constructs its own in-body formulas, tropes of power play, and, drawing from her ethnomusicology background, transcriptions of the games studied. This work fills multiple gaps in folklore study relative to gender, sexuality, and popular music.

    Gaunt, Kyra Danielle. The Girls Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

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  • Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-03900-2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A unique study with a provocative title, it is considered unorthodox in the dance world for openly investigating an Africana presence in Western concert dance culture. Based on interviews with dancers, it is divided into three parts and seven chapters named for body parts, such as feet, buttocks, and skin.

    Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

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  • Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. Jookin’: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

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    The first analysis situating the jook joint as an African American underground cultural institution, it historicizes social dances from Africa to the plantation before establishing the jook as the site where African American working-class dance culture crystallized. In addition, it identifies ten types of dance spaces frequented by African Americans as a part of the northern urban experience.

    Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. Jookin’: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

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  • LeFrantz, Thomas F., ed. Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

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    An anthology with essays arranged in parts under the rubrics theory, practice, and history. The editor writes the opening chapter highlighting the complex history of African American dance and questions the foundation of what constitutes “black dance.” Other contributors are not as circumspect; nonetheless, each offers valuable end notes.

    LeFrantz, Thomas F., ed. Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

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  • Malone, Jacqui. Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996.

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    Besides contrasting European and African conceptions of music and dance, with inclusivity, Malone cites a host of influences upon the African American dance complex: vocal harmony groups, historical black college and university marching bands, and the stepping tradition of black Greek-lettered sororities and fraternities.

    Malone, Jacqui. Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996.

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  • Pancocojams. Edited by Azizi Powell.

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    This blog (along with others by its curator) showcases the music, dances, and customs of African Americans and of other peoples of African descent worldwide. For instance, it offers a systematic examination of Bamboula in three parts as performed in the Caribbean and Congo Square in New Orleans. Selected videos often round out the discourse providing visual representation.

    Pancocojams. Edited by Azizi Powell.

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  • Rosenbaum, Art, and Johann S. Buis. Shout Because You’re Free: The African American Ring Shout Tradition in Coastal Georgia. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

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    The ring shout typically ensued after Sunday worship in the sanctuary, separate from the hymns and spirituals. Rosenbaum explicates characteristics of the “classic” ring shout, expounds about its detractors, and introduces present-day shouters. Buis transcribes and annotates the repertoire of shout songs and writes the essay regarding Islamic and African dance connections. Photographs and charcoal drawings illustrate the text.

    Rosenbaum, Art, and Johann S. Buis. Shout Because You’re Free: The African American Ring Shout Tradition in Coastal Georgia. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

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  • Thompson, Katrina Dyonne. Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014.

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    Thompson locates the ring shout “backstage,” namely, the private world of African American music and dance during slavery. Thompson introduces a performance schema to attest to the functionality of both their onstage (public displays) and their backstage cultural productions, fostering negative stereotypes as well as community cohesiveness. Ultimately, she discusses African American dance from the slave ships to the minstrel stage.

    Thompson, Katrina Dyonne. Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014.

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Material Genres

Material genres speak to the tangible aspects of folklore study, such as woodcarving, quilting, vernacular architecture, food, and basketry. With the shift in the field to examine these folklife traditions, African American material culture presented an alternative to logocentric models, that is, objectifying words without regard to wood, textiles, etc. Several texts marked the paradigmatic shift. An exhibition guide, Vlach 1978 substantiates significant African-based influences in the decorative arts. An anthology, Ferris 1986 offers a survey of African American folklife. Recently, Folklife, a volume in the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture series, by necessity, acknowledges a myriad of African American material practices of social and cultural importance (Hinson and Ferris 2009). Robert Thompson deploys the methodology of an art historian to identify evidence for the retention of an African worldview in the visual and material arts of the Global South (Thompson 1984). Coakley 2005 represents one of the few publications penned by an actual tradition bearer, a work that deals with preserving the art of Sweetgrass basket making as a tradition of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. In addition, folk art is usually deemed naive and crude by those privileging a fine art aesthetic. Academic scholars, also, struggle for a consensus about how to situate these visual artists. Labels such as outsider art, self-taught artist, visionary art, etc. are categories used to describe vernacular art made outside the boundaries of official culture. Regardless of how they are categorized, African American “unschooled” visual artists abound, and they present their works in international art galleries, museums, and folklore and art books as well as on public display in government buildings, libraries, and even in restaurants. The market overflows with American folk art books that are inclusive of African American artists. Anthologies governing the documentation of African American artists exclusively have slowly proliferated since Livingston, et al. 1982. As a rarity, in conjunction with the University Press of Mississippi, the Cheekwood Museum of Art in Nashville published an exhibition guide to highlight the creativity of stone carver William Edmondson, the son of a former slave (Edmondson and Thompson 1999). Treated as a collective, Monroe 2001 acknowledges the ascent of African American landscape painters in the art world.

  • Coakley, Joyce V. Sweetgrass Baskets and the Gullah Tradition. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005.

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    Sweetgrass basket making is unique to the Gullah-speaking people particularly in the area of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. This volume boasts many personal photographs to grant vivid images of basketry and the culture that spawned the retention of this ancient craft tradition.

    Coakley, Joyce V. Sweetgrass Baskets and the Gullah Tradition. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005.

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  • Edmondson, William, and Robert Farris Thompson. The Art of William Edmondson. Nashville: Cheekwood Museum of Art, 1999.

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    In 1937, Edmondson was the first African American artist to be featured in a solo show at New York’s famed Museum of Modern Art. This lavish volume, with essays, showcases twenty full-color photographs and another 190 in duotone. Also, a timeline, exhibitions record, and bibliography comprise the back matter.

    Edmondson, William, and Robert Farris Thompson. The Art of William Edmondson. Nashville: Cheekwood Museum of Art, 1999.

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  • Ferris, William R. Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986.

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    Links African American folk artists with appropriate scholars for a balanced perspective. To contextualize them, first, an essay equips readers with a background on the African influence pertaining to quilters, sculptors, instrument makers, basket makers, blacksmiths, and potters. Another seventy pages of back matter includes additional references and also a focus on film.

    Ferris, William R. Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986.

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  • Hinson, Glenn, and William Ferris. Folklife. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture 14. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

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    An encyclopedia series with an emphasis on southern culture, the Folklife volume embraces a copious array of African American genres. This volume updates an earlier encyclopedia with some entries remaining unchanged while others introduce new contemporary items. For instance, John Vlach’s seminal entry for “African American Aesthetics” required no revision and there are sixty fresh entries illuminating current topics.

    Hinson, Glenn, and William Ferris. Folklife. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture 14. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

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  • Livingston, Jane, John Beardsley, and Regenia Perry. Black Folk Art in America, 1930–1980. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982.

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    This text derives from a curated exhibition devoted to displaying a body of folk art created by African Americans in the 20th century. Along with paintings, the artistry includes drawings, sculptures, and woodcarvings. An essay prefaces each artist, theorizing about the artist’s unique aesthetic. Numerous color photography separates it from most, and the bibliography contains a section relevant to the exhibition and a listing of texts about the featured artists. Published for the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

    Livingston, Jane, John Beardsley, and Regenia Perry. Black Folk Art in America, 1930–1980. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982.

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  • Monroe, Gary. The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

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    An overview of the young African American artists who in the 1950s displayed an entrepreneurial spirit by creating an idyllic art of Florida’s landscapes and peddled their works from the trunks of their cars. They represented a loose confederation of twenty-five men and one woman. Sixty reprints of their art rounds out this publication.

    Monroe, Gary. The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

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  • Thompson, Robert. The Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. New York: Random House, 1984.

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    No superlatives could possibly convey the impact of this publication in many disciplines. Reveals the five distinct African civilizations that inform the black Atlantic world. Of specific interest is the discourse regarding the Kongo Cosmogram, also popularly known as the crossroads. Stupendous photo illustrations serve to better orient readers.

    Thompson, Robert. The Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. New York: Random House, 1984.

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  • Vlach, John Michael. The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1978.

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    An art exhibition facilitated the publication of this seminal text replete with more than two hundred photographs, diagrams, drawings, and maps. Vlach essentially defined the African American tradition in decorative arts, establishing their African-based influences. Overall, he assesses the boatbuilding, basketry, woodcarving, quilting, musical instruments, blacksmithing, architecture, pottery, and graveyard decorations.

    Vlach, John Michael. The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1978.

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Quilting

Of all the folk art traditions, due to distinctive aesthetic preferences and purposes, African American quilting has been much maligned. In addition to appearances in folk art exhibition guides, an avalanche of scholarship recently emerged to augment our understanding regarding their African-based influences and to promote structural reinterpretations. Benberry 1992 is written by a pioneer in African American quilt research, and this catalogue earned her a place in the Quilters Hall of Fame. The author of Freeman 1996, a photo documentarian, reversed the trend of exhibiting African American quilts along with a publication. First, he engaged in the documentation of African American quilters by travelling to forty states to photograph and interact with them. Then he mounted a nationwide gallery tour that featured many of the artists’ works. Wahlman 2001 is credited with inciting other scholars and folklorists to explore African American quilting styles for deeper structural meanings. Tobin and Dobard 1999 provoked a controversy by attaching a unique function to antebellum quilts as code language for fugitives escaping on the Underground Railroad. Hicks 2003 is a sourcebook guide to African American quilt history and contemporary practices. Ringgold 2005 is authored by an award-winning author of children’s books and one of the preeminent African American fine artists who utilizes quilting as a folk cultural idiom in her work. The exhibition of Gee’s Bend quilters enlightened mainstream America, by positioning African American quilts as fine art comparable to Klee and others, that resulted in a flurry of publications, including Arnett, et al. 2006. Turner 2009, written by an academically trained folklorist, blends the personal narratives of contemporary African American quilters with an overview summarizing the genre’s wide-ranging scholarship.

  • Arnett, William, Paul Arnett, Joanne Cubbs, and E. W. Metcalf. Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt. Atlanta: Tinwood, 2006.

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    Gee’s Bend supports a community of quilters, and Tinwood Books is a press formed by the Arnetts to publish seminal volumes on African American art. This exhibition book includes 330 reproductions and features essays by scholars and the artists themselves.

    Arnett, William, Paul Arnett, Joanne Cubbs, and E. W. Metcalf. Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt. Atlanta: Tinwood, 2006.

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  • Benberry, Cuesta. Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts. Louisville: Kentucky Quilt Project, 1992.

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    For an exhibit catalogue, Benberry produced a survey of quilts by blacks completed from the antebellum period to today. The volume features thirty-five quilts in full color and situates them in the historical context of mainstream American quilting while articulating the perspective of more current quilt makers.

    Benberry, Cuesta. Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts. Louisville: Kentucky Quilt Project, 1992.

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  • Freeman, Roland L. A Communion of the Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories. Nashville: Rutledge Hill, 1996.

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    A landmark volume; besides being visually appealing, this book is enhanced by an autoethnography that details Freeman’s ongoing life experience involving the cultural documentation of quilts and their makers. An idiosyncratic bibliography registers the books and exhibits that influenced the development of this quilt project.

    Freeman, Roland L. A Communion of the Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories. Nashville: Rutledge Hill, 1996.

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  • Hicks, Kyra E. Black Threads: An African American Quilting Sourcebook. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003.

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    Referencing 1,700 material sources, many of them annotated, that are relevant to the study and evaluation of African American quilts. Additionally, Hicks contributes her research on Internet usage, a listing of more than one hundred museums with permanent quilt collections by African Americans, a directory of quilting groups, and a time line comprising two hundred years of African American quilting and needle art.

    Hicks, Kyra E. Black Threads: An African American Quilting Sourcebook. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003.

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  • Ringgold, Faith. We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

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    Originally published in 1995. Recognized for her “story quilts,” Ringgold’s memoir contains forty color and 110 black-and-white illustrations. There is also a “Ringgold Chronology.”

    Ringgold, Faith. We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

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  • Tobin, Jacqueline, and Raymond G. Dobard. Hidden in Plain View: The Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

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    Issues a fascinating and provocative thesis regarding enslaved Africans fashioning encoded quilts, used to help fugitives navigate their escape along the Underground Railroad. While their account is built on speculation, Tobin and Dobard weave a compelling argument based on their investigation of African cultural antecedents, transitioning into story-codes imprinted into quilt patterns as readable objects. An extensive glossary rounds out the text’s content.

    Tobin, Jacqueline, and Raymond G. Dobard. Hidden in Plain View: The Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

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  • Turner, Patricia A. Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.

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    Written in two parts, the first incorporates the voices of the African American quilters, and the second historicizes and, in the process, examines most of the contributors to the scholarship cited in this article.

    Turner, Patricia A. Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.

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  • Wahlman, Maude. Signs & Symbols: African Images in African American Quilts. Atlanta: Tinwood, 2001.

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    Indicative of the title, Wahlman interprets African American quilts to surmise their African-derived meanings, patterns, and iconography. The glossary of relevant terminologies exclusive to African language systems and the African diaspora strengthen this volume.

    Wahlman, Maude. Signs & Symbols: African Images in African American Quilts. Atlanta: Tinwood, 2001.

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Vernacular Architecture

Vernacular architecture is defined as those constructions and habitations shaped by ordinary people. With the upsurge of interest in the study of folklife, John Michael Vlach emerges as the most prolific of the scholars pursuing African American vernacular architecture (Vlach 2006). Seldom replicating himself, overall, Vlach contributed foremost to early discoveries regarding not only African American, but also African and Caribbean architecture. In the country’s bicentennial year, he published Vlach 1976, a breakthrough journal article premiering the African derivation of the ubiquitous southern shotgun house. His research further established porches as another African architectural legacy (Vlach 1978). Vlach 1993 constitutes a scholarly investigation into the building techniques of slave quarters in close proximity to the plantation house and the slave owner’s ability to exercise continual dominion over his human property. Westmacott 1992 reminds us that vernacular architecture also applies to gardens and landscapes maintained by African Americans. Battle-Baptiste 2011 reveals how the field of archaeology has much to offer the exploration of African American lives and their relationship with spatiality. Ogundiran and Falola 2007 develops a comprehensive inquiry into the dynamics of a comparative transatlantic archaeology, privileging West Africa and its diaspora. It would be remiss not to include the literary and culture critic bell hooks’s ideological contribution to visual politics (hooks 1995).

  • Battle-Baptiste, Whitney. Black Feminist Archaeology. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast, 2011.

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    Constructs a black feminist framework from which to engender archaeological findings relative to the Hermitage Plantation, the boyhood home of W. E. B. Du Bois, and other excavation sites. Innovatively, the author’s black feminist theorizing incorporates self-reflexivity, political ideology, and other distinct modes of writing about archaeology to aver how artifacts are not neutral.

    Battle-Baptiste, Whitney. Black Feminist Archaeology. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast, 2011.

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  • hooks, bell. “Black Vernacular Architecture as Cultural Practice.” In Art on My Mind: Visual Politics. By bell hooks, 145–151. New York: New Press, 1995.

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    Contextualizes space and architecture as fundamental to poor African American southern life. Significantly, hooks’s maps rural vernacular architecture as a cultural genealogy of resistance, subversive acts in opposition to prevailing structures of domination.

    hooks, bell. “Black Vernacular Architecture as Cultural Practice.” In Art on My Mind: Visual Politics. By bell hooks, 145–151. New York: New Press, 1995.

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  • Ogundiran, Akinwumi, and Toyin Falola, eds. Archaeology of Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

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    The first archaeology text that offers a comprehensive explanation of African lives on both sides of the Atlantic. Twenty essays organized in relationship to Atlantic Africa and the African diaspora are featured.

    Ogundiran, Akinwumi, and Toyin Falola, eds. Archaeology of Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

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  • Vlach, John Michael. “The Shotgun House: An African Architectural Legacy.” Pioneer America 8.1 (January 1976): 47–56.

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    Traces the shotgun house, an African American term for single-story buildings with rooms lined up behind each other, to the early 1800s, locating older models in Haiti and the Dominican Republic with the same distinctive design as those found in West Africa. Supported with images of the houses.

    Vlach, John Michael. “The Shotgun House: An African Architectural Legacy.” Pioneer America 8.1 (January 1976): 47–56.

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  • Vlach, John Michael. The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1978.

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    This text is critical to the study of African American folk art and a broadening awareness of vernacular architecture.

    Vlach, John Michael. The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1978.

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  • Vlach, John Michael. Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

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    Describes the cultural landscape of the plantation through more than two hundred photographs and the words of former slaves written from their point of view. Vlach argues that the enslaved granted themselves agency to monitor their own landscape.

    Vlach, John Michael. Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

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  • Vlach, John Michael. “Vernacular Architecture.” In Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Encyclopedia.com. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2006.

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    Readers can access the entirety of this encyclopedic entry via their local library. It contains the kernel of Vlach’s research findings. The encyclopedia site also makes available online links to related newspaper, magazine, and trade journal articles from Questia.

    Vlach, John Michael. “Vernacular Architecture.” In Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Encyclopedia.com. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2006.

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  • Westmacott, Richard. African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992.

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    Examination of forty-seven gardens in three southern states by a landscape architect. Although criticized for misrepresenting his “survey,” since the gardens and yards of only elderly, rural African American southerners of modest means are represented, yet Westmacott allow the gardeners to speak in respect to function, pattern, and practices.

    Westmacott, Richard. African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992.

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Foodways

Foodways is the term used by folklorists and other social scientists to reference the role food plays in the intersection of culture and history. Foodways was a relatively new field of scholarly inquiry when the New Encyclopedia of southern Culture series was first printed. Bower 2007, concentrating on the South, the nation’s foremost regional cuisine, soon appeared without delay. The University of Georgia Press reissued Grosvenor 2011 with a new foreword and preface. The reprinting of Vibration Cooking acknowledges a renaissance of interest in African American culinary history and food preparation. A highly theoretical work, Witt 2004 explores the complex relationship between food and African American history. Williams-Forson 2006 provides a provocative theoretical analysis of the racist stereotype attached to chicken, particularly with respect to African American women. Moreover, this nuanced text depicts how African American culture and identities are not monolithic. The collection of essays in Wallach 2015 speaks to the role resistance played in African American culinary history and in the perception of African American food habits.

  • Bower, Anne L., ed. African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007.

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    Introduces many aspects of African American cookery from the 17th century to modern cuisine. When soul food is the topic, the author touches on changing definitions, health concerns, and outside influences. The contributors are chiefly immersed in the field of African American food studies.

    Bower, Anne L., ed. African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007.

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  • Edge, John T. Foodways. New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture 7. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

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    As expected, African American foodways gain a prominent place in Part 1 along with the Caribbean and other subregions—New Orleans and the Gullah-speaking Lowcountry. Entries in Part 2 offer clarity about specific southern foods often stereotypically associated with African Americans, such as fried chicken, chitterlings (chitlins), and watermelon. A comprehensive index affords the best opportunity to organize search topics.

    Edge, John T. Foodways. New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture 7. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

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  • Grosvenor, Vertamae. Vibration Cooking: Or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

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    An “underground classic,” first published in 1970, Grosvenor introduced South Carolina Lowcountry foodways and the term soul food to the mainstream. Unlike traditional cookbooks, this text imparts a pastiche of writing styles from personal anecdotes, a travelogue, and letters as well as a full complement of recipes (sans measurements), which is the epitome of soul food: vibration cooking steeped in love, heart, and soul.

    Grosvenor, Vertamae. Vibration Cooking: Or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

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  • Opie, Frederick Douglass. Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

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    Specializing in history and foodways, Opie authors an ambitious monograph that fills many gaps in the scholarship. With an aggressive methodology, he peruses not only travel accounts and government reports about food, but also carries out strategic interviews, reconstructing continuities and changes within their appropriate historical moments.

    Opie, Frederick Douglass. Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

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  • Wallach, Jennifer Jensen, ed. Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop: Rethinking African American Foodways from Slavery to Obama. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015.

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    This anthology was inspired by William-Forson’s study of a food item and Witt’s gendering of African American culinary studies. Includes fifteen essays, and each essay is based on in-depth research on far-ranging topics germane to present-day America.

    Wallach, Jennifer Jensen, ed. Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop: Rethinking African American Foodways from Slavery to Obama. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015.

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  • Williams-Forson, Psyche. Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

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    The topic of this monograph necessitates an interdisciplinary approach, privileging not only American and African American studies, but also cultural studies, history, folklore, and literature. Williams-Forson also uses an array of material resources from films to recordings.

    Williams-Forson, Psyche. Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

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  • Witt, Doris. Black Hunger: Soul Food and America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

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    First published in 1999 by Oxford University Press as part of its Race and American Culture series, each chapter utilizes attention-grabbing titles to foreshadow its content. This seminal work is also divided into three parts: “Servant Problems,” “Soul Food and Black Masculinity,” and “Black Female Hunger.” Furthermore, the back matter is superb, containing an appendix of African American cookbooks and a chronological bibliography.

    Witt, Doris. Black Hunger: Soul Food and America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

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Holidays, Festivals, and Ritual

Folklore study compartmentalizes its interrogation of folklore genres and groups into three classifications: verbal lore (oral and written texts), material lore (tangible objects), and customary lore (ritual acts and performance art). Therefore, folklore and folklife do not exist in a vacuum; rather, they epitomize the patterned, repeated behavior of people who informally create and preserve shared knowledge. Abrahams 1992 constitutes an important analysis accentuating cornshucking, a prime gathering of enslaved Africans, as a ritual festive performance. Dewulf 2013 is a volume on Pinkster, an African American holiday that reached its height in New York between 1790 and 1810. Custom encompasses special days such as Juneteenth and the Twentieth of May. The author of Wiggins 1987, while informative concerning the little known African American freedom celebrations, is credited with uncovering Juneteenth—a state holiday in Texas and now in many places throughout the United States. McGregory 2010 raises awareness of the Twentieth of May, Emancipation Day in Wiregrass country. DeNatale 1993, an edited the catalogue for a national traveling exhibit, explores the lives and celebrations of African Americans in the Southeast. Another holiday exclusive to African American celebrants is Kwanzaa, which has its own website (Official Kwanzaa Website). Concerning African American festivals in the United States, the Mardi Gras Indians are well known, but few are cognizant of the Mardi Gras maskers of the Baby Doll tradition, and Vaz 2013 fills this void. Fine 2003 encapsulates African American fraternity and sorority rituals as social dramas.

  • Abrahams, Roger. Singing the Master: The Emergence of African American Culture in the Plantation South. New York: Pantheon, 1992.

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    Interprets the role of competition in African-based cultural performances relying on cornshucking as the mechanism to discuss aesthetics. Indeed, cornshucking constituted a celebration of life for the enslaved. Offering a little known historical context, this book allows for multiple research possibilities.

    Abrahams, Roger. Singing the Master: The Emergence of African American Culture in the Plantation South. New York: Pantheon, 1992.

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  • DeNatale, Douglas, ed. Jubilation! African American Celebrations in the Southeast. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

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    Organized by the McKissick Museum, this exhibition guide features essays by several renowned African American folklorists, such as William Wiggins, John Roberts, and Gerald Davis. The exhibit displayed more than two hundred artifacts, and the guide covers the history and evolution of celebrations in the South since emancipation and details how these ceremonies have become key components in sustaining a sense of African American cultural heritage. Also, in this text, Wiggins charts a Freedom Trail from Galveston, Texas, to Washington, DC.

    DeNatale, Douglas, ed. Jubilation! African American Celebrations in the Southeast. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

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  • Dewulf, Jeroen. “Pinkster: An Atlantic Creole Festival in a Dutch-American Context.” Journal of American Folklore 126.501 (2013): 245–271.

    DOI: 10.5406/jamerfolk.126.501.0245Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article supplies the Dutch American context for an African-influenced festival as part of the creolization process. Of greatest significance, it connects this East Coast public display event with the existence of another hybrid celebration by Luso-Africans, who considered themselves “Portoguese.” Sojourner Truth is a legendary historical figure from New York whose first language was Dutch.

    Dewulf, Jeroen. “Pinkster: An Atlantic Creole Festival in a Dutch-American Context.” Journal of American Folklore 126.501 (2013): 245–271.

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  • Fine, Elizabeth. Soulstepping: African American Step Shows. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.

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    In this first book to document the history of stepping, Fine treats the comprehensive history of African American college traditions by centering step shows as a ritual space, giving credence to stepping as ritual acts of membership and unity. She also fulfills a service by detailing the appropriation of stepping to new venues and participants.

    Fine, Elizabeth. Soulstepping: African American Step Shows. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.

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  • Karenga, Maulana. Official Kwanzaa Website.

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    Maintained by the holiday’s founder, this site posts present and past welcome messages by Karenga. These messages voice his Afrocentric worldview and function as historical artifacts in their own right. As expected, Karenga delineates the holiday’s symbols, seven principles, and other pertinent materials. Moreover, annual Kwanzaa events and activities are registered.

    Karenga, Maulana. Official Kwanzaa Website.

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  • McGregory, Jerrilyn. Downhome Gospel: African American Spiritual Activism in Wiregrass Country. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010.

    DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781604737820.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Besides introducing the Twentieth of May Freedom holiday, this ethnography painstakingly dissects how a variety of sacred performance communities ritualize their lives via mutual aid societies, Baptist Union meetings, Sacred Harp singing, and gospel programs, and it concludes with a female perspective on the spiritual activism of women in the region based on reciprocity, hospitality, and temporality.

    McGregory, Jerrilyn. Downhome Gospel: African American Spiritual Activism in Wiregrass Country. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010.

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  • Vaz, Kim Marie. The “Baby Dolls”: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.

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    The release of the HBO series Treme helped to provide a geographical and cultural mapping for this neighborhood where the Baby Doll masquerade tradition thrived during Carnival. This texts restores the masking practices of these African American women and some cross-dressing men. An appendix further delineates the history of the tradition and the bibliography should assist any researcher seeking citations on women, dance, and Carnival.

    Vaz, Kim Marie. The “Baby Dolls”: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.

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  • Wiggins, William H. O Freedom! Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.

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    Essentially treatment of African American freedom celebrations, the numerous annual observance to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation that include historical pageants, parade, barbecues, and baseball games. However, Juneteenth may be the Freedom Day holiday of interest to most. When it is the subject, Wiggins will be the expert whose work is consulted.

    Wiggins, William H. O Freedom! Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.

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Belief

African American belief systems are greatly misunderstood, producing value judgments that denigrate customary practices as sheer superstition. Yet, folklorists now espouse an experience-centered theory to validate belief as objectively real and even empirical for those who bear witness to supernatural encounters or are enculturated into community-based traditions. Puckett 1926 serves as an objective study written at a time when overt racism was pervasive, and the author’s scholarship ventures into autoethnography as he declares himself to be an “amateur hoodoo-doctor.” Evans contributes a long-awaited title that historicizes Congo Square in New Orleans as sacred space (Evans 2011). Capturing the popular imagination, which adds to the stereotypical categorization of hoodoo, academics are enlarging our understanding of African American religious culture. A range of recent publications serve to enlighten about the spiritual role assigned to African American conjurers. Anderson 2005, Chireau 2003, Hazzard-Donald 2013, and Long 2001 provide historical antecedents of these spiritual and religious practices before engaging their commodification. Long 2001 offers a variation of hermeneutical analyses and speculations. While conjure is synonymous with what is known in the vernacular as hoodoo, it often is conflated with the voodoo religion and, foremost, with the legend of Madame Laveau. However, the concept may not adequately contextualize the spirituality of people of African descent and, in essence, treat how Christianity became Africanized. Raboteau 1978, followed by Glaude 2014, fills an enormous gap regarding African American religious history. Earlier, Arthur Huff Fauset, a premier African American folklorist and brother of famous writer Jessie Fauset, identified numerous urban religious communities that coexisted in Philadelphia during the 1930s (Fauset 1944). Finally, with Patricia Turner’s theoretical study (Turner 1993), African American urban legends receive the intellectual attention they deserve.

  • Anderson, Jeffrey Elton. Conjure in African-American Society. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.

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    Anderson provides a well-structured analysis of the much maligned hoodoo belief system, including the necessary historical overviews from the African foundation into the 21st century. He perceives his study to be situated within the third wave of scholarship directed toward interest in conjure, with the first encompassing Puckett’s era and the second between the two world wars. Besides endnotes, Anderson incorporates a note on his documentary sources, which should prove valuable to those undertaking more in-depth research.

    Anderson, Jeffrey Elton. Conjure in African-American Society. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.

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  • Chireau, Yvonne Patricia. Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520209879.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chireau engages conjure from the guise of a professor of religion. Therefore, her design is to articulate a nuanced view of “religion” and “magic.” The first chapter probes conjure and Christianity as parallel streams as well as other African American supernatural traditions. Her citations are indicative of the breadth of her research.

    Chireau, Yvonne Patricia. Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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  • Evans, Freddi Williams. Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans. Lafayette: University of Louisiana Press, 2011.

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    Relying on historical records, eyewitness accounts, travel narratives, and contemporary scholarship, Evans chronicles the inception of a legendary sacred performance site. Moreover, she legitimates her arguments with maps of the site along with photographs of practitioners. The book is the recipient of a Book of the Year award by the Louisiana Endowment of the Humanities.

    Evans, Freddi Williams. Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans. Lafayette: University of Louisiana Press, 2011.

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  • Fauset, Arthur Huff. Black Gods of the Metropolis; Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944.

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    An amazing study of African American religious groups that withstands the test of time, since several of them still thrive, largely underground. Members of the Mororish Science Temple and Daddy Grace’s House of Prayer flourish nationwide. African American spiritual leader Father Divine also continues to have a following. His movement once commanded thousands of members, with its promotion of racial equality.

    Fauset, Arthur Huff. Black Gods of the Metropolis; Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944.

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  • Glaude, Eddie, Jr. African American Religion: A Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780195182897.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    As the title indicates, Glaude tersely historicizes more than two hundred years of African American religious traditions, including conjure, Christianity, and Islam. A text for undergraduates, he provides suggestions for further readings.

    Glaude, Eddie, Jr. African American Religion: A Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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  • Hazzard-Donald, Katrina. Mojo Workin’: The Old African American Hoodoo System. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013.

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    Rather than thematics or a strict chronology, Hazzard-Donald theorizes new approaches and even speculates against the conventional scholarship. She proffers the first interdisciplinary examination with a full glossary of hoodoo terminologies and concepts. Her search for High John the Conqueror, the most utilized hoodoo root, veers intriguingly across the border into Mexico.

    Hazzard-Donald, Katrina. Mojo Workin’: The Old African American Hoodoo System. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013.

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  • Long, Carolyn Morrow. Spiritual Merchants: Religion, Magic, and Commerce. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2001.

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    Long explains the history and current practices of African-based belief systems in the United States and the evolution of the spiritual products industry. The appendix even includes retailers, manufacturers, and wholesalers.

    Long, Carolyn Morrow. Spiritual Merchants: Religion, Magic, and Commerce. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2001.

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  • Manigault-Bryant, LeRhonda S. Talking to the Dead: Religion, Music, and Lived Memory among Gullah-Geechee Women. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014

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    Manigault-Bryant’s ethnographic study examines the symbiotic, fluid relationship between the Christian faith of Gullah-Geechee women and the survival of African-derived beliefs. She contends, and her evidence supports, a womanist ideology positioning women as powerful culture keepers.

    Manigault-Bryant, LeRhonda S. Talking to the Dead: Religion, Music, and Lived Memory among Gullah-Geechee Women. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014

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  • Puckett, Newbell Niles. Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1926.

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    This publication stems from Puckett’s PhD dissertation at Yale University. Although he concludes that, as a result of the acculturation process, folk beliefs encompass a paucity of African survivals, he delineates a multitude of practices and beliefs from which contemporary academics draw.

    Puckett, Newbell Niles. Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1926.

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  • Raboteau, Albert J. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

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    An immediate classic, Raboteau’s study presents a holistic account of the belief systems of enslaved Africans in the South as well as from Africa to the Americas. It is acknowledged for citing a variety of primary and secondary resources.

    Raboteau, Albert J. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

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  • Turner, Patricia A. I Heard It through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

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    The subject pertains to urban legends, a form of folk belief orally transmitted via a friend of a friend, or FOAF. Turner theorizes a host of such rumors that circulated among African American, related primarily to the four C’s—cannibalism, castration, contamination, and conspiracies—replete with a formula to ascertain their utility. A number of case studies also inform the study.

    Turner, Patricia A. I Heard It through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

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