On Sunday, February 25th the Michael Pietranczyk, Music Director of Orchard Park Presbyterian and Maurice Woolfolk, Music Director of Harvest Christian Fellowship gave a dual-presentation on the history and development of the African American Spiritual and its contribution to present-day Gospel music. The evening began with an informative video, created by Tia Woolfolk that traced the history of the American tradition of celebrating Black History Month.* This then segued to Michael Pietranczyk’s talk presenting information on some of the earliest known spirituals recorded in the first anthology of slave songs collected by Harvard scholars William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware and ethnomusicologist Lucy McKim Garrison. Early authentic recordings of “work songs” and videos of re-enacted early enslaved African worship rituals (“ring shouts”) were shared and enjoyed by everyone.
The work of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, H. T. Burleigh, and Thomas Dorsey were highlighted with both recorded examples and live performances by Kimberly Pietranczyk, Molly Schmidt, and Maurice Woolfolk accompanied by the OPPC Praise band members, Don Frazer and Colin Oakley. Maurice Woolfolk rounded-out the presentation with informative videos on early to present Gospel Music styles and performers.
The evening ended with a delightful pitch-in meal featuring delicious, traditional African-American favorites. Many members of Harvest Christian commented on how informative the evening was and that they had learned a bit more of their own cultural history. The musicians of Harvest Christian Fellowship and OPPC look forward to the next musical and worship collaboration.
*Transcript of Tia Woolfolk’s Video presentation on the History of Black History Month
“On September 1915 Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life, an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent.
In 1926 the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), sponsored a national Negro History week. The second week of February was chosen to celebrate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures.
In the decades that followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.
In 1976 President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
This holds true today when all too often only the most negative aspects of African American communities get highlighted. We are overwhelmed with images of rowdy athletes and reality stars as examples of the success of black people. And we are subjected daily to unfair stereotypes and assumptions from a culture that is still learning to accept us.”
Black History Month is an integral part of our nation’s tradition in which we continue to promote positive examples of poignant historical events, exemplary leaders and steps towards societal change. This remembrance is not only deeply meaningful for the African American community, but imperative for the greater understanding of national and world history.
Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme.
The Black History Month 2018 theme, “African Americans in Times of War,” marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and honors the roles that black Americans have played in warfare, from the American Revolution to the present day.