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(48:40, 44.5MB; S1576 D00-20, D01-17, S1640 Box 25 Tape 8)
The practice of lining hymns can be traced back to the 17th century.
Welcome back to the Florida Folklife Collection podcast series from the Florida Department of State’s State Library and Archives of Florida. In recognition of Black History Month, we will highlight the uniquely African-American tradition of hymn lining.
The practice of lining hymns can be traced back to the 17th century when printed hymnals were scarce and many churchgoers—both slaves and whites—could not read. A church elder or minister who could read would “line out,” or recite a hymn line by line, which in turn was repeated by the congregation. These hymns, such as “Amazing Grace” or “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” remained and evolved in African-American churches after the end of slavery. For Albert Troy Demps of Orlando, this tradition was passed on to him by his mother during the Great Depression, when musical instruments were scarce and times were hard.
As Deacon at the Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, Demps continues to practice hymn lining, and he believes there is a more focused connection with the Holy Spirit among the congregation when the hymnal is set aside. Through the Florida Department of State’s Folklife Apprenticeship Program he taught hymn lining in order to preserve the tradition, and was awarded the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 2003. This podcast features performances from Troy Demps and his apprentices at the Florida Folk Festival as well as a 1995 interview with folklorist Bob Stone.
More information on Troy Demps and African-American hymn lining can be found in a biography from the Folklife Apprenticeship Program. The Florida Folklife Collection compilation CD Shall We Gather at the River features Demps and his apprentices, in addition to other recordings of traditional African-American sacred music, from the State Archives of Florida.