Gullah History Highlighted in New York Times

Gullah interpretor at Boone Hall, via Flickr Rliskov

The New York Times ran a fascinating piece on Gullah history last week. “A Black Cultural Tradition and its Unlikely Keepers” focused on the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals, a group founded in 1922 to keep Gullah songs alive across generations.

Author Samuel Freedman describes the society:

They all belonged to a group called the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals, as had many of their parents and grandparents. Since its founding in 1922, the society’s members have collected, recorded, transcribed and performed black praise songs that almost certainly would have otherwise been lost — lost to the resort development of the barrier islands where Gullah culture thrived, lost to the amplified up-tempo sounds of urban gospel music that overwhelmed rural, a capella forms.

…Long before it was recognized as a unique hybrid, suitable for scholarly inquiry, Gullah folk life was routinely ridiculed, even by some big-city blacks, as merely primitive. Gullah songs reached the affluent white children of Charleston through the cries of street vendors, the lullabies of black nannies.

The preservation group published a book of music and lyrics in 1931 containing nearly 50 Gullah spirituals. The group also began to record performances at African American churches (listen via the article link). Later, recordings  from the 1960s were uncovered and put onto CDs in 2004. Most recently, the society released an updated version of the 1931 music book, Spirituals of the Carolina Low Country.

To purchase other books from the society and on the topic of Gullah, visit the Preservation Society of Charleston’s website.

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