Individual articles from this issue of Black Sacred Music are available for purchase at read.dukeupress.edu/black-sacred-music.
O black and unknown bards of long ago, How came your lips to touch the sacred fire? —James Weldon Johnson
In “O Black and Unknown Bards” James Weldon Johnson captured the quintessence of the African-American spiritual and the creativity of the “unknown bards” who fashioned it. Johnson’s poem serves as a fitting prologue to this collection of hymns by fourteen black bards, themselves either born into slavery or of the first generation of freedmen. Even though these fourteen are not “unnamed” (like the creators of the spirituals), they are “unfamed.” Never again to be forgotten, their names are Richard Allen, Joshua McCarter Simpson, George Patterson McKinney, Charles Price Jones, Charles Harrison Mason, F.M. Hamilton, Lucius H. Holsey, Sarah Collins Fernandis, John Howardton Smith, Mary L. Tate, Mary F.L. Keith, H.C. Jackson, S.R. Chambers, and Robert Nathaniel Dett.
This collection of a hundred unsung hymn seeks to make its contribution to the celebration and perpetuation of the sacred black song tradition by giving voice to the unknown bards whose religious lays and lyrics have undeservedly sunk into oblivion.