Hidden History: Hymns of our History

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AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) – Music has played a major role in the history of African American churches.

For more than 100 years, hymns have provided not only music but messages.

As music has evolved, so has the traditional sound inside the churches.

But one group has found a way to keep history alive through song.

Inside Greater Mount Canaan Missionary Baptist Church an old art form has taken on new life.

“Out of each one of the hymnals that we does has a message,” says group leader Wesley Johnson.

The “Disciples of Praise” group members do what’s called “raising hymns.”

It’s a form of song in the format of call and response that dates back to slavery.

Johnson explains, “back in the slavery time quite naturally they didn’t want them to know how to read so they couldn’t read. As they went older and older you may have the preacher or some designated one that read it or they may not didn’t have but one book.”

The hymns fall into categories of short, standard, common metered and long.

They vary by the length of the song notes.

“I like ‘father I stretch my hands to thee no other help I know. If thou withdraw myself from me oh whether shall I go. What did thy only son endure before I drew my breath? That’s the one I love.'”

“If God take his hand from me then where will I go? Because he’s the reason why I live. He’s the reason why I’m here,” recites Johnson.

As instruments have increased in popularity during services this form of music has seen a significant decrease in many churches.

But it’s been the just the right beat to keep this group in harmony.

“What’s so unique about it is a bunch of men from different backgrounds and different churches come together and be able to co-exist. That’s one of the things that’s so unique about our group,” reflects Johnson.

Through song, they’re using their voices to raise more than just hymns.

Group member Charles Kersey explains, “we have an anniversary and we raise this money for our scholarship people. It comes in from various churches.”

While raising hymns has become a dying art this group is using it to keep history alive.

“If it dies then they will never know about their history. if you don’t know where you came from then you don’t know pretty much where you’re going. so, everybody needs to know about their history,” concludes Deacon Wesley Johnson.

For information on booking the group contact Deacon Wesley Johnson at (706) 564-0157.


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