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Julia A. J. Foote and the Wandering Chorus: Nineteenth-Century African American Autobiography as Hymn/Book

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Abstract:

Both African American autobiographies and hymnals proliferated in the nineteenth century. I argue that African American evangelists hybridize these forms to create “singing books” that revise the trope of the talking book. Using Julia A. J. Foote’s spiritual autobiography, A Brand Plucked from the Fire (1879, 1886), as a case study, I show how Foote inserts music throughout her text, including a hymn whose lyrics she penned. Foote’s method of crafting her hymn and hymn/book results from a process that I identify as “mixtery,” an African American technique for combining fragments to generate new meanings. Foote constructs the new hymn by revising an existing hymn and adding a “wandering chorus,” a specific instance of mixtery. Another distinctly African American innovation, the first hymnal published for the newly formed African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1801 incorporated wandering choruses, or “unrelated choruses freely attached to one or more hymns” (Spencer, 4). I offer the wandering chorus as a metaphor for itinerant African American preachers like Foote and the congregations they led in song. The wandering chorus can also characterize African American autobiographies, singularly and as a corpus, as well as the pan-African diaspora itself. Finally, I contend that the larger category of mixtery can serve as a rubric for reworking African American literature and history to yield new meanings.


Work Cited

Spencer, Jon Michael. Black Hymnody: A Hymnological History of the African-American Church. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992.
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Name: 96th Annual Convention
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http://www.asalh.org


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p521861_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Sieck, Jennifer. "Julia A. J. Foote and the Wandering Chorus: Nineteenth-Century African American Autobiography as Hymn/Book" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 96th Annual Convention, TBA, Richmond, VA, Oct 04, 2011 <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p521861_index.html>

APA Citation:

Sieck, J. , 2011-10-04 "Julia A. J. Foote and the Wandering Chorus: Nineteenth-Century African American Autobiography as Hymn/Book" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 96th Annual Convention, TBA, Richmond, VA <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p521861_index.html

Publication Type: Individual Paper
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Both African American autobiographies and hymnals proliferated in the nineteenth century. I argue that African American evangelists hybridize these forms to create “singing books” that revise the trope of the talking book. Using Julia A. J. Foote’s spiritual autobiography, A Brand Plucked from the Fire (1879, 1886), as a case study, I show how Foote inserts music throughout her text, including a hymn whose lyrics she penned. Foote’s method of crafting her hymn and hymn/book results from a process that I identify as “mixtery,” an African American technique for combining fragments to generate new meanings. Foote constructs the new hymn by revising an existing hymn and adding a “wandering chorus,” a specific instance of mixtery. Another distinctly African American innovation, the first hymnal published for the newly formed African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1801 incorporated wandering choruses, or “unrelated choruses freely attached to one or more hymns” (Spencer, 4). I offer the wandering chorus as a metaphor for itinerant African American preachers like Foote and the congregations they led in song. The wandering chorus can also characterize African American autobiographies, singularly and as a corpus, as well as the pan-African diaspora itself. Finally, I contend that the larger category of mixtery can serve as a rubric for reworking African American literature and history to yield new meanings.


Work Cited

Spencer, Jon Michael. Black Hymnody: A Hymnological History of the African-American Church. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992.


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