Shall We Gather At The River
African-American Sacred Music from the Florida Folklife Collection

Music from the Florida Folklife Collection CD Cover

This disc highlights Florida’s African American religious music traditions. The collection features both nationally recognized acts and previously unknown local artists, including the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Georgia Sea Island Singers, the Versiteers, and the Amigo Male Singers.

Download the disc as a ZIP file containing 320kBps MP3s.
Contact the State Archives of Florida to request a complimentary CD.

Liner Notes

Christian sacred music is performed by African-Americans in a variety of social contexts, which range from informal unaccompanied singing, to spirited church meetings, to gospel concerts by professional artists. Like its secular counterparts such as jazz, blues, and various other popular music forms, the music combines African and European influences to create unique and compelling musical expressions.

The tradition of lining hymns, as demonstrated in the rendition of "The Peaceful Death of the Righteous," dates back to the mid 17th century, when slaves (and many whites) could not read and hymnals were scarce. Similarly, shape-note singing takes its name from the use of note heads of various geometrical shapes to teach the vocal parts to those who could not read standard musical notation. It has been part of Florida's musical life since the late 19th century. The clear diction and rather formal sound of the Amigo Male Singers reflect influence by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a popular touring group formed shortly after emancipation to raise funds for Fisk University, and often credited with introducing the Negro spiritual to the general public.

Call-and-response is an important element of music with African roots and is employed on this recording by smaller groups as well as by large ensembles, such as the Antioch Junior Choir, and in congregational singing, such as the selections by the Testerina Primitive Baptist Church and the members of the Madison County Senior Center.

Florida was and remains an important destination for professional gospel touring groups. The Dixie Hummingbirds (Pennsylvania), the Religionaires (Georgia), and the Cisrow Family Gospel Allstars (New Jersey), as well as Florida groups the Washington Sisters and the Versiteers, were recorded at a 1985 concert in Orlando which paid tribute to Otis Jackson, a gospel deejay, composer, and performer with strong ties to Orlando and Jacksonville. These groups performed in the gospel "quartet" style, which saw its heyday in the 1940s through the 1960s. The Georgia Sea Island Singers are known for their repertoire of old-time spirituals, which have been handed down among the Gullah people of coastal Georgia for generations.

This recording emphasizes older musical forms; however, many African-Americans constantly re-shape their sacred music to reflect contemporary cultural contexts, yet maintain connected to deep traditional roots. Today, millions of Floridians of African descent continue to express their faith, trials, and triumphs through a rich variety of Christian sacred music.

-Robert L. Stone, Outreach Coordinator, Florida Folklife Program

1. Amazing Grace - Florida-Alabama Progressive Seven-Shape Note Singing Convention (download)
Recorded: May 18, 1980 by Dwight DeVane (Florida Folklife Program)
Florida Record Project
Crestview, Florida
(S 1576, reel T83-83)

2. I've Got Heaven On My Mind - Hickory Bottom Harmoneers (download)
Recorded: May 1, 1955 by Foster Barnes (Stephen Foster Center)
1955 Florida Folk Festival
White Springs, Florida
(S 1576, reel T76-12B)

3. Babylon Is Falling Down - Deacon Dan Smith with Nick Hallman & the Georgia Sea Island Singers (download)
Recorded: August 30, 1975 (Stephen Foster Center)
1975 Florida Folk Festival
White Springs, Florida
(S 1576, reel T79-18)

4. I Can't Even Walk Without You Holding My Hand - The Cisrow Gospel Allstars (download)
Recorded: September 15, 1985 by Peggy Bulger (Florida Folklife Program)
Golden Gospel Concert
Orlando, Florida
(S 1576, reel T85-151)

5. Jesus Met the Woman at the Well - The Versiteers (download)
Recorded: May 27, 1995 (Florida Folklife Program)
1995 Florida Folk Festival
White Springs, Florida
(S 1576, tape D95-41)

6. Soon I Will Be Done - Amigo Male Singers (download)
Recorded: May 2, 1958 by Foster Barnes (Stephen Foster Center)
1958 Florida Folk Festival
White Springs, Florida
(S 1576, reel T77-68)

7. Wasn't That a Mystery - Madison County Senior Center (download)
Recorded: April 19, 1983 by Nancy Nusz (Florida Folklife Program)
Rural Folks Arts in Education
Madison County Senior Citizen Center
Madison, Florida
(S 1576, tape C84-58)

8. Excerpt from church service - Testerina Primitive Baptist Church (download)
Recorded: May 11, 1980 by Dwight DeVane & Doris Dyen (Florida Folklife Program)
Florida Record Project
Seville, Florida
(S 1576, reel T83-89)

9. Daniel in the Lion's Den - Bessie Jones and The Georgia Sea Island Singers (download)
Recorded: August 29, 1975 (Stephen Foster Center)
1975 Florida Folk Festival
White Springs, Florida
(S 1576, reel T79-15)

10. I'm In His Care - The Washington Singers (download)
Recorded: September 15, 1985 by Peggy Bulger (Florida Folklife Program)
Golden Gospel Concert
Orlando, Florida
(S 1576, reel T85-151)

11. Jesus Be a Fence Around Me - Antioch Junior Choir (download)
Recorded: May 1970 (Stephen Foster Center)
1970 Florida Folk Festival
White Springs, Florida
(S 1576, reel T77-214)

12. Jesus is Coming Soon - Dixie Hummingbirds (download)
Recorded: September 15, 1985 by Peggy Bulger (Florida Folklife Program)
Golden Gospel Concert
Orlando, Florida
(S 1576, reel T85-153)

13. Come and Go To That Land - The Religionaires (download)
Recorded: September 15, 1985 by Peggy Bulger (Florida Folklife Program)
Golden Gospel Concert
Orlando, Florida
(S 1576, reel T85-152)

14. The Peaceful Death of the Righteous - Troy Demps, James Robinson, & Frank Spaulding (download)
Recorded: May 28, 2004 (Florida Park Service)
2004 Florida Folk Festival
White Springs, Florida
Library Folklife Program
(S 2034, tape CD04-91)

15. There's a Bright Side Somewhere - Reatha Pearl Marshall (download)
Recorded: September 5, 1976 (Stephen Foster Center)
1976 Florida Folk Festival
White Springs, Florida
(S 1576, reel T77-255)