Oct 7, 2008

Singsong Preaching?

A reader wrote me an email with the following question:


Are you aware of old fashion Baptist preaching that makes a sucking sound as they preach? I was raised in middle Tennessee and remember preachers on radio doing this. It is a cadence sound with their breathing as they are drawing a breath. Is this a style or what?"
(emphasis mine)

Here are some tidbits of info on this style of preaching.

"He was not a "Primitive" or "Old-School" Baptist, but, like some of them, would "sing out" his sermons, I have been told, after the approved fashion and popular and effective style of preaching, in many parts of the country, at that day. Dr. Broadus used to say that the "sing-song" habit of some of the dear old men was a by-product of out-of-door speaking, and being restful to the "overstrained vocal chords," was natural."


"Woodmason shared with many other persons down to the present an annoyance with the peculiar manner in which the Separate preachers delivered their extemporaneous sermons, which they believed directly inspired. When preaching, they chanted their sermons in what Woodmason described as a 'squeaking, untuneable, unintelligible Jargon; Neither Verse or Prose, Singing or Speaking. And when one of them lately was reprimanded for this, and asked --Whether he sung, or spoke, He answered in this blasphemous Strain, It is not I that speak--but the Spirit of God that dwelleth in me." Many later Primitive Baptist preachers in South Georgia and Florida preached in this manner. Although the Separate Baptists considered some divine assistance necessary to preach acceptably." ("Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South" By John G. Crowley)


"Folk preaching draws on traditional oral composition techniques. The sermon normally begins in prose and then moves into metrical verse. Rhythm and timing are among the most significant aspects of a Black folk preacher's chanted sermon. Intonational chanting is widely used by Black preachers to indicate inspirational climax in their sermons. This chanting is usually interspersed with moans, hollers, grunts, and shouts. The talent of the Black folk preacher can be evaluated according to how he renders the metrical lines while still delivering the message."


"As a professor of communication arts, Dorgan likewise extensively studied the preaching cant most commonly used by Old Regular Baptist ministers as well as others found within the Primitive Baptists, Regular Baptists of northwestern North Carolina, the mountain Free Will Baptists, and related groups. All show similarities to one another, and we have already seen from Morgan Edward's notes on the Separate Baptists as they existed within a year of Shubal Stearn's death that they are undoubtedly variations, developed over time and distance, of Stearn's own exposition of the New England Tone. Of course we cannot know exactly what this Ur-version of Appalachian preaching sounded like, but one is tempted to speculate that the common Old Regular mode, with its heavy dependence on singsong chant interspersed with elongated shouts and wails, appearing so similar to Edward's description of the style that Philip Mulkey must have successfully parrotted from Stearns, is the closet extant approximation. It is found among the other of Stearn's descendant groups but nowhere so uniformly as is found among the Old Regulars." ("The Roots of Appalachian Christianity" By Elder John Sparks)

Some of the old "singsong" preachers were very good at it, men like Elder John R. Daily, whom Elder Throgmorton mimicked in his debate with Daily.

Others preach in less a melodic manner, but nevertheless get themselves worked up in a preaching "frenzy" where they are speaking fast and loud, and where they must stop regularly for gulps of air, and give out the infamous "uhs" and "ers" in the gaps between the gulps and the words.


WatchingHISstory said...

Are there any audio clips of this style of preaching on the internet?

Which came first the old Baptist preaching or the Black style? Ocassionally I come across a black preacher who will use this.

GE Patterson of the Church of God in Christ in Memphis could preach this style very well but it was far different from the old Baptist I heard as a kid.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear WH:

I don't know. Good questions.

God bless


Anonymous said...