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Assistant Professor Vaughn Booker's latest publication is an innovative book, Lift Every Voice and Swing: Black Musicians and Religious Culture in the Jazz Century. (New York: New York University Press, July 2020).
"Booker offers a fresh and innovative perspective on twentieth-century African American religious history and culture by highlighting how Black jazz professionals functioned as "race representatives" in American public life and as agents in shaping and transforming the landscape of African American religious life." Judith Weisenfeld, author of New World A Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration.
Beginning in the 1920s, the Jazz Age propelled Black swing artists into national celebrity. Many took on the role of race representatives, and were able to leverage their popularity toward achieving social progress for other African Americans.
In Lift Every Voice and Swing, Vaughn A. Booker argues that with the emergence of these popular jazz figures, who came from a culture shaped by Black Protestantism, religious authority for African Americans found a place and spokespeople outside of traditional Afro-Protestant institutions and religious life. Popular Black jazz professionals—such as Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Mary Lou Williams—inherited religious authority though they were not official religious leaders. Some of these artists put forward a religious culture in the mid-twentieth century by releasing religious recordings and putting on religious concerts, and their work came to be seen as integral to the Black religious ethos.
Booker documents this transformative era in religious expression, in which jazz musicians embodied religious beliefs and practices that echoed and diverged from the predominant African American religious culture. He draws on the heretofore unexamined private religious writings of Duke Ellington and Mary Lou Williams, and showcases the careers of female jazz artists alongside those of men, expanding our understanding of African American religious expression and decentering the Black church as the sole concept for understanding Black Protestant religiosity.
Featuring gorgeous prose and insightful research, Lift Every Voice and Swing will change the way we understand the connections between jazz music and faith.
"Booker offers a fresh and innovative perspective on twentieth-century African American religious history and culture by highlighting how Black jazz professionals functioned as "race representatives" in American public life and as agents in shaping and transforming the landscape of African American religious life. Mobilizing a host of unconventional sources for religious studies, Lift Every Voice and Swing presents a fascinating and original portrait of the dynamic relationship between popular culture and Black religious life." Judith Weisenfeld, author of New World A Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration
"In this vividly imagined, carefully researched, and musically written book, Vaughn Booker argues for jazz as the vector by which African American spiritual authority moved beyond black church life to saturate all of American culture, and from there to command the shape, feel, and sound of the long twentieth century. A book this fresh about religion in the lives and works of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mary Lou Williams would by itself be a remarkable achievement. But Lift Every Voice and Swing is more: a demonstration of the power of their artistry to move and change the world." Tracy Fessenden, Director of Strategic Initiatives in the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, Arizona State University
"Lift Every Voice and Swing is entirely original and groundbreaking. By way of incisive archival research and superb cultural analysis, Vaughn A. Booker has shown that there was a religiosity to the creation of jazz music and that some jazz musicians, such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mary Lou Williams, represented alternative sources of spiritual authority and religious ways of being throughout the long twentieth century. Convincingly overturning notions of the innate secularity of jazz, Booker has provoked a powerful rethinking of African American religious history and the means by which we tell that history." Wallace Best, Princeton University