Student Response by Terrance McQueen

In Retrospect: A Student’s View

Terrance McQueen (M.Div. ’24)

While some time has passed since the ISM and Dr. Braxton Shelley launched Devotion: Meditating on the Black Gospel Tradition, I still find myself without words which to fully encapsulate what transpired during this event. As a product of the Black church and a Black church musician, I was reminded of home. During the event, I was able to recall the sounds and songs of my grandparents’ church. Every instrument told a story. Dr. Melanie Hill’s rendition of For Every Mountain on violin, Pamela Jean Davis’s world-renowned Order My Steps on piano, and Derrick Jackson’s soul-stirring I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired on the Hammond organ captured the experience of the Black gospel music tradition. I cannot forget the phenomenal bassist, guitarist, and drummer who also contributed to the stories being told through the sounds of Black gospel music. This was no ordinary launch or celebration, but it was a moment to reflect and meditate on how African Americans endured hardship without losing their sound. Devotion: Meditating on the Black Gospel Tradition was a celebration of the sounds that carried my ancestors through slavery. The sound of Black gospel music is a sound of hope, resilience, and strength to continue fighting for better days.

It can be argued that the Black gospel music tradition is not universal and solely belongs to those of the African American experience, but Devotion showcased a counterargument to that belief.  In the Black church, congregants respond with a waving of a hand, a vocal shout, or simply standing with a distinct face of satisfaction. While the response to gospel music varies across the diaspora, something beautiful manifested for many attendees that filled Marquand Chapel that evening. A diverse crowd that was representative of different cultures and faith practices came together to experience an electrifying evening. For the many attendees unfamiliar with the Black cultural response to music, there was an unspoken response where these attendees were also moved to wave their hand, stand in awe, or simply sit in amazement from the sounds of the Black church. Devotion illustrated what will take place as the ISM carries out its Interdiscplinary Program on Music and the Black Church — a space where folks of many cultural backgrounds and musical expertise will learn the rich history of Black gospel music.