"Let the Church Sing!"

"Let the Church Sing!"

Music and Worship in a Black Mississippi Community

Thérèse Smith


University of Rochester Press



An examination of worldviews, religious belief and ritual as seen through the musical performances of one Afro-American Baptist church in a small black community in rural Mississippi.
"Let the Church Sing!": Music and Worship in a Black Mississippi Community is based on years of fieldwork by an Irish ethnomusicologist, who examines, in more detail than ever before, how various facets of the Clear Creek citizens' worldview find expression through religious ritual and music. Thérèse Smith, though originally very much an outsider, gradually found herself welcomed into Clear Creek by members and officials of the Clear Creek Missionary Baptist Church. She was permitted to record many hours' worth of sermons and singing and engaged in community events as a participant-observer. In addition, she conducted plentiful interviews, not just at Clear Creek but, for comparison, at Main St. Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. All of this enables her to analyze in detail how music is interwoven in the worship service, how people feel about the music that they make and hear, and, more generally, how the religious views so vividly expressed help the Church's members think about the relationship between themselves, their community, and the larger world. Music and prayer enable the members and leaders of the Church to bring the realm of the spiritual into intersection with the material world in a particularly active way.
The book is enriched by extensive musical transcriptions and an accompanying CD of recordings from actual church services, and these are examined in detail in the book itself.

Thérèse Smith is in the Music Department, University College, Dublin.


August 2004
18 black and white illustrations
304 pages
6x9 in
ISBN: 9781580461573
Format: Hardback
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS020000, MUS015000, REL000000
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Table of Contents

Identity "You could tell me all day what it means to you to be an Irish..."
Concepts of Time "Total good aspect comes from the Lord"
Tradition "Have you ever seen Jackson State marchin' band?"
Moving in the Spirit "If it ain't no shoutin', no Spirit in it"
Prayer "Prayer will change your condition"


"Let the Church Sing!" is a careful and fascinating study of a rural black community and its religious center in Northern Mississippi. In it, Thérèse Smith reveals both the profound importance of religious experience and the tragic racial divisions that have existed in Clear Creek. --William Ferris, Professor of History and Senior Associate Director, Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)

Through ethnographic skill and self-effacing scholarly expertise [Thérèse Smith] enables church members to offer their own portrait, in word, symbol, and sound, of how they worship, what they believe, and where they fit-on God's earth and in the Christian cosmos. --Richard Crawford, University of Michigan.

Thérèse Smith escorts us through the doors of the Clear Creek Missionary Baptist Church and into a sacred space where song, chanted prayer, and sung sermon intertwine in dynamic ritual aimed to stir the soul. Her work makes a convincing argument for the intensive ethnographic study of local African American church culture. --Ray Allen, Associate Professor of Music, Institute for Studies in American Music, Brooklyn College (CUNY)