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Black music ROOTS from Scotland?

Salm and Soul is at Glasgow Cathedral

Lining out - or "precenting the line" - had been commonplace throughout Europe in the 16th, 17th and 18th century. At a time of low literacy rates and high costs of prayer books it had become an easy way to teach and distribute the word of God.
The English brought precenting the line to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The Highlanders, along with Puritans and Baptists, also took it to the New World, and it was widely practised by the frontiersmen, planters and adventurers who carved out what is the modern US. Eventually it fizzled out in most areas, but the tradition had been kept alive in the remote communities of the Western Isles, as it had in the rural areas of the Deep South.
Jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Mingus (or Menzies) - all Scots monikers, surnames that were probably given to their ancestors by slave masters. It was common for owners to impose the family name on the slave.
Willie Ruff investigates the connections between the Scots and the blacks of the southern US. June 4, 05

Washington Post: Some Oklahoma Creeks had identified aural similarities between their Christian hymn style of singing and African American lined hymn performance in Alabama (the "Muskogee" language Creeks and their Seminole relatives actually originated in Georgia and Alabama). Hear Voices of the Muskogee also see Creek Indian Jane Bardis.

Sun 31 Aug 2003 Black music ROOTS from Scotland It could be the gospel truth by Ben McConville
THE church elder's reaction was one of utter disbelief. Shaking his head emphatically, he couldn't take in what the distinguished professor from Yale University was telling him.
"No," insisted Jim McRae, an elder of the small congregation of Clearwater in Florida. "This way of worshipping comes from our slave past. It grew out of the slave experience, when we came from Africa."
But Willie Ruff, an Afro-American professor of music at Yale, was adamant - he had traced the origins of gospel music to Scotland.

The distinctive psalm singing had not been brought to America's Deep South by African slaves but by Scottish émigrés who worked as their masters and overseers, according to his painstaking research.
Ruff, 71, a renowned jazz musician who played with Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, is convinced the Florida congregation's method of praise - called 'presenting the line', in which the psalms are called out and the congregation sings a response - came from the Hebrides.
Ruff explained: "They had always assumed that this form of worship had come from Africa, and why not?
"I said to him I had found evidence that it was Scottish people who brought this to the New World, but he just would not believe it. I asked him what his name was. He said McRae, and I just replied: 'There you go'."
Psalm singing and gospel music are the backbone of the black Church in the United States, with gospel music CD sales alone worth half a billion dollars last year. Ruff's research has massive cultural implications for Afro-Americans and alters the history of American culture.
He said: "We as black Americans have lived under a misconception. Our cultural roots are more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American. Just look at the Harlem phone book, it's more like the book for North Uist.
"We got our names from the slave masters, we got our religion from the slave masters and we got our blood from the slave masters.
"None of the black people in the United States are pure African. My own great great grandparents were slaves in Alabama. My grandmother's maiden name was Robertson.
"I have been to Africa many times in search of my cultural identity, but it was in the Highlands that I found the cultural roots of black America.
"I hope to inform the perception of Afro-Americans, and what a gift that is, to give people something to go on.
One of the great tragedies of the Afro-American experience is that few can trace their families beyond the bill of sale. After that it's vague: the name of a ship and never the port of embarkation. The watery highway that those ships took leave no trace."
Ruff added: "There are probably more descendents of the Highlands in the United States than there are in Scotland. There are a huge amount of Afro-Americans with light skin or red hair like Malcolm X. What were his origins?
"Storytelling and music are some of the best ways to document the true integration and movement of people, because the music can't lie."
Ruff's journey of discovery started as a child in his home Baptist church in Alabama, when he would listen to elders present the line, which predates, and was an influence on, gospel music.
"I remember this captured my imagination as a small child. The elders, some born into slavery, say the lines in unison. They were dirge-like, impassioned melodies. They were illiterate and poor, they had nothing, but they had that passion in their singing. I, like everyone else, assumed it was unique to black congregations in the United States, having grown out of slavery."
But last year, during a casual visit to the Presbyterian church in Cumberland, Alabama, Ruff stumbled on a predominantly black congregation that sang the same way as the Baptist congregation of his childhood.
"Not only were they singing the same psalms, they were singing in the same deeply profound way, with the same passion which cries out. The tears began to flow."
They believed the method of worship came from Africa, but Ruff started to ask whether white Presbyterian congregations sang in the same way.
The academic began researching at the Sterling Library at Yale, one of the world's greatest collections of books and papers. He found records detailing how Highlanders had settled in North Carolina in the 1700s. I found evidence of slaves in North Carolina who could speak only Gaelic. I also heard the story of how a group of Hebrideans, on landing at Cape Fear, heard a Gaelic voice in the dialect of their village. When they rounded the corner they saw a black man speaking the language and assumed they too would turn that colour because of the sun. When I made these connections, I thought: 'That's it, I'm going to the Hebrides."
A chance meeting with James Craig, a piper with the Royal Scots, put Ruff in touch with congregations in Lewis and Donald Morrison, a leader of singing.
"When I finally met Donald, we sat down and I played him music. It was like a wonderful blind test. First I played him some psalms by white congregations, and then by a black one. He then leapt to his feet and shouted: 'That's us!'
"When I heard Donald and his congregation sing in Stornoway I was in no doubt there was a connection."
Yesterday, Jamie Reid-Baxter, a history research fellow at Glasgow University and a psalm expert, said: "This sounds extremely plausible because of the link to the Scottish slave-owners, who would definitely have brought that style of singing with them.
"The slaves would have heard the Scots singing like that, and both these forms of music are a way of expressing religious ecstasy. It's an intriguing idea."
Warwick Edwards, a reader in the music department of Glasgow University, added: "Psalm singing from the Western Isles is certainly known in America. Whether you can link that up with gospel music is another matter. It's new to me.
"One should never underestimate the longevity of these deep-down traditions. They cross oceans and people should be encouraged to investigate this further."
Ruff's research on the integration of Highland culture into black America expands conventional wisdom on Scotland's legacy in the southern states of America.
Although the Enlightenment, especially Francis Hutcheson's A System of Moral Philosophy, inspired the abolitionists in both Britain and America. Scotland's darker role in the slave trade is also well known. Scots were influential in founding the Ku Klux Klan, including the traditional Scottish symbol of the burning cross and the KKK's oath ceremony, which originated from a Highland custom.
[[[ See Irish Africa and Irish Funeral Cry ]]]
Ruff said: "There will be Scots who are uncomfortable with the relationship and the involvement in the slave trade. But the Scots are like anyone, and there were many who were abolitionists and who set up schools for black children after emancipation."
While Ruff's claim has been welcomed in Scotland, it has been met with a far less favourable response in his native country.
Bobby Jones, producer of the weekly Gospel Explosion television programme which reaches more than four million viewers in the United States, is not swayed by Ruff's argument. "Gospel music is black music," he insists.
Ruff's next mission is to return to Scotland to document and record the congregations of Lewis.
"I'll be there later this year and hope to record them there and also make recordings of American congregations. In another 100 years I doubt this form of worship will still be around. It's sad to say that on both sides of the Atlantic this is dying out.
"In the Hebrides there are few young people in the churches and this is also the case in the States. In a sense, I aim to preserve a legacy."
The lasting legacy of Ruff's research is an anthropological revelation which forces the re-evaluation of the history of two peoples. Now Afro-Americans, frustrated in their search for antecedence in their African line, might turn to their Scottish roots. As Ruff said: "Why did they leave this to a musician? This is the job of an anthropologist."

Willie Ruff, hornist and bassist holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Yale. With pianist Dwike Mitchell as the Mitchell-Ruff Duo, he performs and lectures extensively in the United States, Asia, Africa and Europe. A faculty member since 1971, he concertizes regularly on campus and teaches an Interdisciplinary Seminar on Rhythm and Instrumental Arranging in the School of Music. He has taught several Yale College courses in African American Studies, Ethnomusicology and Folklore, conducted various student ensembles and is founding Director of the Duke Ellington Fellowship Program, a University sponsored, community based organization that mentors young artists from both Yale and the New Haven Public School System. Since 1972 the Ellington Fellows Program has sponsored world-class jazz artists in campus workshops and public Showcase featuring student talent. Ruff's 1992 memoir, "A Call to Assembly," was awarded the Deems Taylor ASCAP award. He has also written widely on Paul Hindemith, one of his teachers at Yale, and on his professional association with the American composers Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. He has collaborated with Yale geologist, John Rodgers, on the Musical astronomy of the noted 17th century scientist, Johannes Kepler. Professor Ruff has published articles on music and dance in Russia, and on the introduction of American Jazz in China where he has both performed extensively and presented public lectures in Mandarin.

Play It Again Psalms 9/25/05
Calum Alum Martin rises to his feet, clears his throat and begins the first line of Psalm 45, verse 13, in his native Gaelic tongue. The haunting line rings out, lifting and drifting until it is picked up by the rest of the Free Church psalm-singers from the Isle of Lewis, who respond in the way their forebears did for more than 200 years.
As the electrifying singing rises and fills the hall, sweeping away all before it, there are gasps and nods of recognition in the audience.
Surveying the black and white faces in Sprague Hall at Yale University in Connecticut is the music teacher who precents the line at Back Free Church on Lewis each week, thousands of miles away.
"Amen... praise the Lord," comes the cry from an elder of a Baptist church in the Deep South. It is the first time the black congregation of the Sipsey River Primitive Baptist Association, from Eutaw, Alabama, have heard lining-out in Gaelic. [source]

Presenting a new line connecting Gaelic and gospel by Susan Mansfield Wednesday, 19th January 2005
The Scotsman
MUSICIANS travel far and wide to be at Celtic Connections, but few have travelled as far - geographically or culturally - as the singers from Mount Zion Church in Killen, Alabama. Nevertheless, the group - which has never left the US before - is here because of their own Celtic connection to the Gaelic psalm singers of the Western Isles.
On Friday a group of Gaelic psalm singers from the Hebrides will share a bill with black singers from the deep South who, they believe, are keeping a variant of their tradition alive. After singing separately, the two groups will sing together, uniting the traditions for the first time in 200 years.
It is the conclusion of a remarkable journey from the Isle of Lewis to the deep South and back, driven by jazzman Willie Ruff. He believes that "precenting the line" - the traditional unaccompanied singing of psalms in Gaelic in the Presbyterian churches in the Hebrides - is the ancestor of "lining out", still practised in black churches in the South and, therefore, that Gaelic psalm (salm) singing lies at the root of all black American music.
"It's a controversial idea," says Calum Martin, a teacher of Gaelic music on Lewis, who organised a historic recording of Gaelic psalm singing on Lewis in 2003. "When I first heard it, I thought it would be good publicity for the CD, and didn't think much more of it."
Ruff, who is also a Professor of Music at Yale University, was looking for the roots of the call-and-response singing he remembers hearing as a child in the black churches of Alabama during the Depression. African-Americans believed their music had come from Africa with their forefathers, brought to the New World as slaves. Ruff, however, was unable to relate the music he had grown up with to African tradition.
When he heard Gaelic singers precenting the line he says he realised that this was what he was looking for. He believes that Gaels, who emigrated to the Americas, maintained their language and worship style, and taught it to their slaves, who then continued the tradition. He has found evidence of black churches in the deep South worshipping in Gaelic up to 1919.
Last August, the Lewis singers travelled to the stifling heat of Alabama to put the theory to the test. Martin says: "It was an amazing trip all round. We arrived in the church having not really met them before, and just ended up doing our own singing. We didn't know whether there would be a connection at all but you could see there was a connection, although they didn't understand the language. Then they did their music and the commonality was clear."
Folklorist Margaret Bennett, who was with the group, vowed to bring the Mt Zion singers to Celtic Connections: "I thought it was timely to do a concert of Scottish sacred music in Glasgow Cathedral. I didn't know who should sing with the Gaelic psalm singers, but I knew I would know it when I heard it. When we went to Alabama, I knew immediately that it was right. It was not just a musical connection, it was a spiritual connection.
"Alabama is still quite segregated on race lines, they wouldn't be invited to a white church. They would never have dreamed of coming to Scotland - financially it would have been out of the question. None of them even had a passport, many had not even been out of Alabama before. When we parted, we said: 'Here's hoping we'll see one another again on the other side', and the minister, Rev Docary Ingram, said, 'We're going to meet on the other side, but it ain't gonna be the other side of the Atlantic.
"When we got funding agreed by Celtic Connections I called Docary to ask if they would come. He just shouted 'Hallelujah!' I almost didn't need the phone."
Ruff's theory has provoked controversy among other music experts and historians. Some argue that the Gaels who emigrated were too few to have such a significant impact. Others are uncomfortable with the history of slavery it uncovers. One expert said that if the theory had been put forward by a white man, it would be regarded as racist nonsense.
However, Ruff sees the discovery of shared tradition as a way of making peace, using music as a bridge between the descendents of slaves and the descendents of slave masters.
"A lot of people get the wrong end of the stick about the connection between Gaelic and gospel," says Martin. "Gospel is a 20th-century phenomenon, the connection with lining out predates that by 200 years. I'm convinced of the connection. The interesting thing is that we are the only two groups who do it now." He says the publicity surrounding the link has helped him achieve his dream of taking the Gaelic psalm singing tradition worldwide. "Gaelic speaking churches are in decline and I became concerned that this tradition would die. Thousands of Scots don't even know it exists."
The Lewis group is being invited to sing at world music events in various countries. "I wanted to make sure I captured this work on a recording," Martin says. "Everything that has happened since then has been a bonus."

also see:

Articles from the 1997 Festival of American Folklife
Program Book

The singing of the Old Regular Baptists from the Kentucky coal-mining country in the heart of the southern Appalachian Mountains is one of the oldest and deepest veins of the English/Scots/Irish-based American melodic traditions. This hymnody, with its elaborate, lined-out, unaccompanied singing, is not well known outside its region, cannot be heard on television or radio, and little of it has been available on recordings. Yet it is a regional and national treasure that deserves to be encouraged within its community and made available to the world outside.

Ms. Bonnie Raitt, has a "fast-talking, stout-imbibing-yet-perfectly-dictioned" poet-philosopher-priest of a Celt father, John, descended from a Scotch-Presbyterian minister.

Lined-Out Hymnody Conference

5/4/05 Conference and Demonstration on Lined-Out Hymnody
A conference and demonstration of lined-out hymnody to take place all day this Thursday and Friday (May 4-5) in Sprague Hall at Yale University. Groups of singers from the Free Church of the Isle of Lewis, Scotland; from southeastern Kentucky (Old Regular Baptist); and from Alabama (African American, Primitive Baptist) will be featured demonstrating their singing traditions, while various scholars will comment on aspects of musics, religions, and cultures. Contact person is Liz Muller, who can be reached via email at lizmuller at Willie Ruff, Professor of Music at Yale, is the conference organizer. I helped arrange for the Old Regular Baptists to be there -- these are some of the people whose music is presented on the two Smithsonian Folkways CDs that were released in 1997 and 2003. Yesterday I was interviewed by Juan Williams for a radio segment on this conference & demonstration that is scheduled to appear Friday morning on NPR's Morning Edition. The event is free and open to the public, and as far as I know is the first time that people representing these three musical cultures will have a chance to visit and share their expressive traditions.

Jeff Todd Titon, Professor and Director, PhD Program in Ethnomusicology
Department of Music, Box 1924
Brown University
1 Young Orchard Ave.
Providence RI 02912-1924, USA
The musicological / ethnomusicological consensus has been that lining out developed in the 16th c. English parish church, was brought to the rest of the UK and the American Colonies (Dissenting churches), and picked up by Black Americans at brush arbors, revivals, etc. during the Great Awakenings. It's a complicated story. Willie Ruff's work has raised the profile of the Scots connection, particularly Gaelic, and its possible direct influence upon Black American lining out, in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the articles on the Scots' website make the strong claim that Black lining out developed from Scots Gaelic psalmody. Ethnomusicologist Terry Miller doesn't agree and has organized a panel for this summer's ICTM conference where the issue will be explored. As for the Old Regulars, Elwood Cornett volunteered to me that he thought while their singing and the Scots had in common that certain "sound" which they all find so powerfully attractive, and which they find nowhere else, he didn't think that the Old Regulars got their music from them. My own view emphasizes centuries of musical exchange and interchange and subsequent changes in performance among all the groups--sharing, to the point where it's misleading to say that one group got its style from another. It happened with fiddle tunes and I'm convinced it happened with lining out; and if I can't prove it, why, I'll just write a short story!

From: Lynne Williamson 5/11/05
Subject: Concert of Lined-out Hymnody
I attended the Friday evening concert at Battell Chapel at Yale, and it was a remarkable experience. The free concert (actually more like a natural sharing of music, or a service, with great emotion, not a formal staged event) lasted two hours. Each group lined out three songs (psalms in the case of the Scots), then conference organizer and jazz trumpeter Willie Ruff spoke and introduced some of the scholars and the congregants participating. Then another round of three each, then two each (with the Sipsey River group demonstrating their moaning), ending with the Old Regular Baptists bringing everyone together as well as the audience for Amazing Grace.
Congregants were the Free Church Psalm Singers from Back, the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides (10 singers); the Sipsey River Primitive Baptist Association of Eutaw, Alabama (24 singers), and the Indian Bottom Old Regular Baptists of Southeastern Kentucky (also 24 singers). Willie Ruff made the point that these are among the few congregations who sing in this way exclusively. <snip>



Other Styles called:

Sacred Harp
Shape Note


I took this picture in
Dublin, Ireland 2006.