The tradition of African American hymn singing known as “Dr. Watts” derives from the collection of hymn texts written in the eighteenth century by the Dissenting English theologian Isaac Watts and others, including Charles Wesley, brother of the founder of Methodism. The Dr. Watts tradition, embracing intoned sermons, prayers, testimonies, moans, shouts, and songs, as well as hymns, stems from the fervent evangelical Christianity of the North American frontier and from an African lineage more ancient and multifarious. Dr. Watts hymn singing plays a seminal role in the transition from spirituals to classic gospel. This book explores lining out as one of the “invisible” (or autonomous) forms of music in contemporary black churches and considers it in relation to language and ritual. The rubric “Dr. Watts,” which is heard chiefly among African Americans, coincides with the prophetic implications of Isaac Watts's “system of praise” for the evolution of black musical identity. The book presents a new interpretation of rhythmic styles in lining out and other black music genres from the period between 1800 and 1970.
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