Monday, August 29, 2011

Soulful Black Churches (Dr Watts songs sung in African American churches)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Soulful churches are found throughout the United States. I was raised in one, but the soulfulness of my Baptist church in New Jersey pales in comparison to the down home santified for realness of this church service I found while YouTube surfing:

Mt. Do Well Baptist Church in McConnells, South Carolina -"He Set Me Free"

Uploaded by Hymnchoir on May 3, 2007

Recorded by RAM in 1991 at Mt. Do Well Baptist Church in McConnells, SC

This way of singing hymns is called "Dr. Watts" , named after the 18th century composer of English hymns, "Dr Isaac Watts. These songs are also called "long meter", the "Old One Hundreds", and "surge singing."

Here's some more information about this type of soulful singing:
"According to William T. Dargan, Ph.D., Professor of Music at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina, the old style a capella "spirituals and hymns are characterized by two and three part modal harmonies, gradual but drastic quickening of tempos, frequent and strong body movements as well as polyrhythmic clapping and stomping patterns.

Developed by slaves during the camp meeting revivals of the early nineteenth century, spirituals are rhythmic, call-and-response song forms that continue in oral tradition among African-American congregations.

"Lining out" is a method of performing a psalm or hymn in which the leader gives out the words, or the melody, or both, one or two lines at a time, to be followed by the congregation. This practice began in the early seventeenth century by the British Parish Churches as an aid for those who were unable to read."

This quote appeared in the Black Music Research Journal Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, Chicago, Vol. 15 NO. 1, Spring 1995; reposted from

UPDATED January 15, 2014

Example #1 [given above]

Example #2: What I Am

Hymnchoir, Uploaded on Oct 4, 2007

Recorded by KB on 10/04/2003 at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Chester, SC.

Example #3: All I Do - St Paul Baptist

Hymnchoir Uploaded on Jan 10, 2009

Recorded by RAM at Mt Do Well Baptist Ch. in Mcconnells, SC. Sung by St. Paul Baptist Church.

Example #4: What a Time

Hymnchoir, Uploaded on Apr 5, 2009


The content of this post is presented for folkloric, religious and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks for all those featured in these videos. Thanks also to the publishers of these YouTube videos.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.


  1. I’m only 25 however I was brought up in a Traditional “Black” Baptist Church (Macedonia Baptist Church) just outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Sunday Mornings and Wednesday (Prayer Meetings) evenings it seemed as if you could hear the Old Deacons, and Church mothers “lining” out these hymns from miles away. Songs such as “A charge to keep I have, Father, I stretch my hand to thee, and The Old Ship of Zion” were some of the songs the saints of old used to sing. In my opinion nothing compares to this style of music, being an African American I believe its honor and a privilege to partake in singing “Negro Spirituals”. I personally don’t have an issue with today’s “Contemporary Christian or Gospel Rap” all because the music is designed to glorify God. Although I must say nothing moves my spirit like an old “Dr. Watts” style hymn.

  2. Thanks, Quallan. I really appreciate your comment.

    I think that the style of singing featured in this video may have been how religious services were for enslaved African Americans.

    It seems to me that the Mt. Do Well choir (and other Dr Watts singing choirs who are featured in YouTube videos) really means what they are singing. In contrast, I often get the sense that some contemporary Black Gospel choirs/vocalists are showing off for their audiences.

  3. Thanks Azizi for the re-connect to my roots,....I've witnessed this type of singing without music instrumental music being my father was minister to 3 churches back in the day in Va., and surrounding counties of the city of Richmond. I didn't think the memory of it would stick with this long, but being a jazz/R&B/gospel musician it plays an integral part of my music makeup, and I feel I'm blessed to have experience this moving of the ho;y spirit with such fire and integrity. Only voices, handclapping, foot stomping, and an occasional tamborine, the holy spirit reveals itself!

  4. Thanks for the comment, Toussaint.

    I grew up in a rather "saditty" Baptist church so don't have any personal experiences growing up with the kind of singing shown on this video. But the videos that I've seen make me want to experience this in person.

    Btw, Toussaint, I love your website (which I visited by clicking on your name). HHIekoccassvevideos that I've seen (and the few one it's so spiritually rich, because it's down home natural, w nfcause's quite moving, and is Fthis the perrkind of t's wonderful how the

  5. I love this. It reminds me of the storefront churches we visited when I was a child when my father, who was a civil rights activist, would be invited to speak. There is so much of Africa still living in this music and the way the people get caught up in the spirit. It's so powerful and ancestral and beautiful. I am so glad they have kept this tradition. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    1. You're welcome, Sherrie Tolliver.

      And thank you for your comment, and your father for his civil rights activism.

      I agree that people of the African Diaspora live our African legacy through the ways we worship, through our social music & social dances and so much more.

  6. Thank you so much. This brings back many memories and fills me with tears of joy. I am 70 something, grew up in Virginia and visited churches in North Carolina as a child where my parents were born...

    1. You're welcome, Sister.

      I appreciate your comment. I wonder what it is about North Carolina that this state seems to have been & is still the center of this type of religious music. Perhaps it's because parts of North Carolina is one of the centers of the (African American) Gullah culture.

  7. I enjoyed the singing and ask myself why I'm so moved in spite of the fact I reject the old Baptist church as a relic of slavery.

    1. Thanks for your comment, saulamore.

      I don't necessarily disagree with your comment that "the old Baptist church is a relic of slavery". But I think of the type of singing that is documented in these videos as a relic of the type of singing that some Black people did during slavery which helped them survive that extremely oppressive condition. Therefore, I honor this music's slavery connection.