by Teresa L. Reed
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Popular music has seen a fascinating trend toward the spiritual. Themes once reserved for gospel and Christian music are now found in songs entering the mainstream and topping the charts. While this may be a relatively new phenomenon in the worlds of rock ‘n’ roll and pop, it has been fundamental to African American musicians for nearly a century. The Holy Profane explores the strong presence of religion in the secular music of twentieth-century African American artists as diverse as Rosetta Tharpe; Sam Cooke; Stevie Wonder; Roberta Flack; Teddy Pendergrass; Marvin Gaye; Earth, Wind & Fire; and Tupac Shakur. Analyzing lyrics and the historical contexts which shaped those lyrics, Teresa L. Reed examines the link between West-African musical and religious culture and the way African Americans convey religious sentiment in secular styles such as the blues, rhythm and blues, soul, funk, and gangsta rap. She looks at Pentecostalism and black secular music, minstrelsy and its portrayal of black religion, the black church, "crossing over" from gospel to R&B, images of the black preacher, and the salience of God in the gangsta rap of artists such as Tupac Shakur. Throughout, Reed shows the metamorphosis of religious consciousness throughout the twentieth century, a change directly related to the evolving social and political situation of African Americans.
Teresa L. Reed is associate professor of music and director of the African American Studies Program at Tulsa University. She spent her childhood surrounded by the music of the black Pentecostal church.
Norman "Otis" Richmond
President, Black Music Association, Toronto Chapter
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