"Gimme That Old Time"

The Ray Charles Symposium

Panels and Workshops

Session 1a: "Gimme That Old Time...": Ray Charles, the Church, and Southern Music

Friday, September 21
10:00 a.m.–12 p.m.

Session Description: Ray Charles was far from the first to infuse popular and vernacular song with the spirit of Southern sanctified worship. The line between the sacred and secular has always—in African American music—tended toward transparency. The ties between the spiritual and material in African religious life were quickly adapted to the practice of Christianity by these New World arrivals. Early white witnesses testified as to the uncommon intensity of African American musical practices, particularly in the South.

In the 20th century, this music was finally documented in mechanical form, from early remnants of minstrel religious song to quartet singing, country and hillbilly music, and then ragtime, country, blues, and jazz. Religion was nearly always an aesthetic factor in old time country musical forms, though many religious Southerners kept a safe distance between church song and secular singing. Ray Charlesss way of playing and singing came directly out of that Southern vernacular tradition, with powerful overtones of the sanctified church. In this session we will listen to his musical ancestors and contemporaries, both black and white, in order to get a sense of both the material and spiritual context in which he performed.

Moderator: Allen Lowe