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Bernice Johnson Reagon Collection of African American Sacred Music

Richardson, Deborra  Search this
Reagon, Bernice Johnson, 1942-  Search this
Chick Webb Orchestra  Search this
Hampton University Choir  Search this
Harmonizing Four  Search this
Jubilee Singers  Search this
Dett, Nathaniel  Search this
Dorsey, Thomas A.  Search this
Ellington, Duke, 1899-1974  Search this
Tharpe, Rosetta  Search this
Tindley, Charles  Search this
6.55 Cubic feet (17 boxes)
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
circa 1822-1994
The collection documents the customs and culture of black gospel song and its performance in 19th- and 20th-century America. Dr. Reagon collected photographs, sheet music, and other primary and secondary sources chronicling the development and legacy of this medium, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, from blues to Gospel to classical to jazz.

Among the subjects included in this collection are trailblazers such as Charles Tindley, Thomas A. Dorsey, Rosetta Tharpe, Duke Ellington, and Nathaniel Dett. Noted performers are the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the Harmonizing Four, the Hampton University Choir, and the Chick Webb Orchestra.
Scope and Contents:
The Bernice Johnson Reagon Collection of the African American Sacred Music Tradition documents the music, and the society, history, and customs from which it emerged. The materials were collected by Dr. Reagon during her tenure as Director of the Program in Black American Culture, Curator, and Curator Emerita at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution (1977-1997). The records span the nineteenth century and greater part of the twentieth century. The collection is important because it allows an understanding of the interconnectivity of African American musical forms. Gospel, Jazz, and Protest Songs document the African experience in America through verse and melody. Dr. Reagon collected photographs, sheet music and other primary and secondary sources chronicling the development of African American sacred music tradition from its birth during the period of slavery through the creation of concert spiritual, gospel music, jazz and the performance of protest song in the century following Emancipation.

The records, which measure approximately six linear feet, contain photographs, sheet music, and what Dr. Reagon calls "cultural files" pertaining to figures in, types of, and history of African American music. The cultural file material formats include book, news and magazine articles, programs, bio-sketches, and music. Information about personalities such as Marian Anderson, La Verne Baker, Dorothy Love Coates, Nathaniel Dett, Thomas Dorsey, Frederick Douglass, Duke Ellington, and the Golden Gate Quartet are contained among the collection materials. Also, there are items on gospel trailblazers such as Charles Tindley, Thomas A. Dorsey, and Rosetta Tharpe. In addition, the collection features materials connected to historians and other scholars who participated in a number of teams Reagon organized to carry out specific research initiatives in sacred music traditions and the larger African American experience.

The collection, which was arranged by Dr. Reagon and staff, consists of four parts: a cultural file, a sheet music file, a photography file, and a negative file. The cultural file includes primary documents such as programs from historic performances, personal letters, press releases, and programs from scholarly conferences as well as secondary materials such as journal articles, excerpts from books, and biographical notes. The photography (and negative) files contain photographs of performers and scholars who have participated in the evolution of the African American sacred music tradition. The sheet music file encompasses songbooks and individual pieces of music.

Series 1: Cultural Files, ca. 1836 - 1994: The bulk of materials date from the 1920's to the 1960's. Four document boxes of materials which relate to prominent personalities, groups and events that contributed to the popularization of African American sacred music. Also included in this series is information on slave songs, the Civil War, the Black Church, the Civil Rights Movement, and popular music culture.

Series 2: Sheet Music, ca. 1901 - 1993: The bulk of materials date from the 1900's to the 1950's. Three document boxes of sacred music sheets and songbooks including concert, spiritual, and gospel arrangements. Also included are a few popular compositions, some written by classically trained musicians.

Series 3: Negative Files, ca. 1880's - 1993: The bulk of the materials ranges from 1940 to 1965. Two boxes document boxes of photographic negatives depicting gospel music performers and performances. Included .are contact sheets and individual negatives of varying sizes.

Series 4: Photographs and Illustrations, ca. 1822 - 1993: The bulk of materials range from the 1900's to the 1980's. Eight document boxes of photographs featuring gospel performers, performances, sacred rituals, sacred organizations, Civil Rights activity , and gospel music conferences (primarily black and white).
Biographical / Historical:
Bernice Johnson Reagon, noted vocalist, musician, curator, historian, writer and civil rights activist, provided the impetus for the Smithsonian Institution's research into African American sacred song and music traditions from 1977 until ca. 1997.

Dr. Reagon was born October 2, 1942 to a rural Georgia Baptist minister (Jesse Johnson) and his wife (Beatrice Wise) whose religious influence is evident in her research and performance style. She came of age during the 1960's Civil Rights era, and was a Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Freedom Singer. The SNCC Freedom Singers were an African American group whose vocal singing style was an integral element in the civil rights struggles. The Singers traveled throughout the country performing protest songs such as "We Shall Not Be Moved" and "This Little Light of Mine". Their songs reflected the Black church theology of the era, emphasizing freedom, long denied, but fervently sought by civil rights activists and the people they represented.

At one march, Reagon was jailed along with hundreds of other demonstrators. This experience taught her the importance of music as a political act. Reagon reflected on this in the book We Who Believe in Freedom: Sweet Honey in the Rock... She founded Sweet Honey in the Rock, a highly regarded female a capella ensemble dedicated to performing traditional music of the African diaspora in 1973, started working full time at the Smithsonian Institution in 1974, and earned a Ph. D. from Howard University in 1975.

Reagon's life has combined political activism with music and cultural history. She began directing the Smithsonian's Program in Black American Culture in 1976. In 1988 she became a curator at the National Museum of American History and after retirement in 1993 continued her work in African American songs of protest and sacred traditions as a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian and a distinguished professor at American University.

Dr. Reagon has authored and edited numerous publications including, We'll Understand It Better By and By: African American Pioneering Gospel Composers, (Smithsonian Press, 1992) and We Who Believe in Freedom: Sweet Honey in the Rock...Still on the Journey (Anchor Books, 1993). She was principal scholar, producer and host of the National Public Radio series "Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions (1994). Dr. Reagon has served as consultant composer and performer for several film and video projects including programs for PBS,"Eye on the Prize" (Blackside Productions) and "We Shall Overcome" (Ginger Productions), and has won a number of awards for her scholarship and pioneering work (MacArthur Fellowship, 1989; the Charles Frankel Prize,1995 and the Isadora Duncan award, 1996).
Collection donated by Bernice Johnson Reagon.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Gospel music  Search this
See more items in:
Bernice Johnson Reagon Collection of African American Sacred Music
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Online Media:

The Prince of Colored Preachers: The Remarkable Story of Charles Albert Tindley of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Written by:
Rev. Elbert Thurwalden Tindley, American, 1899 - 1951  Search this
Printed by:
Schultz Printing Company, American  Search this
Subject of:
Charles Albert TIndley, American, 1851 - 1933  Search this
ink on paper, metal
H x W x D: 7 × 5 1/8 × 3/16 in. (17.8 × 13 × 0.4 cm)
Place printed:
Flint, Genesee County, Michigan, United States, North and Central America
Place depicted:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America
African American  Search this
Christianity  Search this
Literature  Search this
Men  Search this
Preaching  Search this
Religion  Search this
The Black Church  Search this
Credit Line:
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Object number:
Restrictions & Rights:
©Professor E.T. Tindley
Permission required for use. Proper usage is the responsibility of the user.
See more items in:
National Museum of African American History and Culture Collection
Documents and Published Materials-Published Works
Data Source:
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Online Media:

Organ Historical Society Philadelphia 2016 : diamond jubilee commemorative anthology / Agnes Armstrong, Michael Hurley Cross, Robert Rutherford Drummond, Edward W. Flint, David Fuller, Sebastian M. Glück, James Lewis, Rollo F. Maitland, Paul R. Marchesano, Irvin J. Morgan, Henry Kemble Oliver, Barbara Owen, Bynum Petty, Stephen L. Pinel, Alexander Russell, Rollin Smith

Organ Historical Society diamond jubilee commemorative anthology
Organ Historical Society commemorative anthology : Philadelphia 2016 : diamond jubilee
Armstrong, Agnes  Search this
Cross, M. H (Michael Hurley) 1833-1897  Search this
Drummond, Robert Rutherford  Search this
Flint, Edward W  Search this
Fuller, David R  Search this
Glück, Sebastian M  Search this
Lewis, James 1944-  Search this
Maitland, Rollo F. 1884-1953  Search this
Marchesano, Paul R  Search this
Morgan, Irvin J  Search this
Oliver, Henry K (Henry Kemble) 1800-1885  Search this
Owen, Barbara  Search this
Petty, Bynum 1943-  Search this
Pinel, Stephen L  Search this
Russell, Alexander 1880-1953  Search this
Smith, Rollin  Search this
Issuing body:
Organ Historical Society  Search this
Courboin, Charles M (Charles Marie) 1884-1973  Search this
Guilmant, Alexandre 1837-1911  Search this
Richards, Emerson 1884-1963  Search this
Tindley, Charles Albert  Search this
Bates, Samuel L. 1857-1913  Search this
Culley, Oliver B. 1855-1933  Search this
Fleming, William Boone 1849-1940  Search this
Haskell, Charles Eugene 1878-1946  Search this
Haskell, C. S (Charles Sylvester) 1839-1905  Search this
Haskell, William E. 1865-1927  Search this
Knauff, Henry 1808-1897  Search this
Möller, M. P (Matthias Peter)  Search this
Mudler, Bernard 1846-  Search this
Roosevelt, Frank 1862-1895  Search this
Roosevelt, Hilborne L (Hilborne Lewis) 1849-1886  Search this
Standbridge, J. C. B (John Christopher Barnett)  Search this
Organ Historical Society  Search this
Boardwalk Hall (Atlantic City, N.J.) Organs  Search this
John Wanamaker (Firm) Organs  Search this
Aeolian Company  Search this
Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co  Search this
F.A. Bartholomay & Sons  Search this
Bates & Culley (Firm)  Search this
C.S. Haskell (Firm)  Search this
Henry Knauff (Firm)  Search this
Midmer-Losh Organ Company  Search this
M. P. Möller (Firm)  Search this
Mudler-Hunter Organ Company  Search this
Hilborne L. Roosevelt (Firm)  Search this
J.C.B. Standbridge (Firm)  Search this
United States Pipe Organ Company  Search this
Vox Organo Musical Research Products, Inc  Search this
Physical description:
x, 276 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
Pictorial works
United States
Organ (Musical instrument)--History  Search this
Organ (Musical instrument)  Search this
Organ builders  Search this
Data Source:
Smithsonian Libraries

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