Music and the Black Church

Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church

Greetings! Thank you for taking the time to read about ISM’s Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church, which sponsors programming and events that bring together scholars, practitioners, and students of Black sacred music on the campus of Yale University. The goal of this initiative is to organize and expand the scholarly attention paid to the music of the Black Church and to this tradition’s extraordinary influence on a host of musical cultures—confessional and commercial, American and global.

We launched this program in November, 2021, when Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes joined me in conversation in the Divinity School’s Marquand Chapel for an event we called “Devotion: Meditating on the Black Gospel Tradition.” That evening’s discussion was punctuated by performances by four extraordinary instrumentalists: Pamela Jean Davis, Dr. Melanie Hill, Derrick Jackson, and Joey Woolfalk, who rendered canonical gospel selections on piano, violin, Hammond organ, and guitar, respectively. Following that inaugural event, we organized a workshop featuring fifteen music ministry leaders from across the country, hosted a residency with gospel composer Kurt Carr, and presented “In the Sanctuary: An Inaugural Symposium on Music and the Black Church.” Our plans for the 2022-23 school year are even more ambitious!

The Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church also publishes an online newsletter three times each year, beginning in November 2022. Subscribe to the Music and the Black Church newsletter here (listed under the Institute of Sacred Music).  Each issue of this newsletter will reflect on recent programming, detail upcoming events, share the story of one of the musicians who embodies the best of Black sacred music, offer reflection on the Black gospel tradition, and detail the curricular and co-curricular engagements that are being offered for both undergraduate and graduate students. We hope that all of you will become regular readers of our newsletter. We invite you to visit the program’s website regularly for updates on our sponsored programming and to join us for one or more of our public events. We hope to see you soon!

—Professor Braxton D. Shelley, Program Director

Directed by Professor Braxton Shelley, the program links scholars in the Department of Music, the School of Music, the ISM, the Divinity School, and the Department of African American Studies, fostering interdisciplinary exchange. The program, while focused on Yale faculty and students, is not narrowly academic. It trains students at the intersection of practice, performance, and scholarship. Through its slate of activities, the program draws together practitioners and scholars, students and congregants, neighbors and visitors, pursuing a fuller consideration of this crucial strand of African American life and history.

Conferences, symposia, and publications

The program’s regular gatherings of scholars and practitioners of black sacred music will facilitate both practice and reflection. Single-day symposia and multiday conferences will result in a variety of publications from edited volumes to special issues of journals.

Guest artists/artists-in-residence

The program will foster interactions between students and leading performers of the Black Church’s musical traditions. As students learn from expert creators—musicians and preachers, composers and arrangers—both short visits and extended residencies will present opportunities for the program to invite members of the New Haven and broader communities into the ISM’s network. 

Gospel Music Database

Coming soon

Summer fellows

In order to strengthen the pipeline of students interested in studying black sacred music, the program will recruit and support cohorts of undergraduates who will come to campus to receive intensive research training to fuel their chosen summer-long investigations of topics in black sacred music.