One question of importance to any Black preacher is: Must one whoop? I think that the answer is no, one must not whoop to be an effective preacher in the Black tradition, but I would hasten to add that one must not be an "anti-whoop" preacher either. By that I mean that one must not be against this important component of the tradition. There is in some circles an anti-whooping climate that seems to be based in the belief that it is "a circus" or "unnecessary,"or it is "anti-intellectual."

While it is true that this critique of whooping is sometimes valid. Martha Simmons describes this as a "dark side" of whooping where preachers simply use it to make up for sloth in preparation. However, I think that what many anti-whooping brothers and sisters don't realize is that all Black preaching is subject to these problems in the wrong hands. One will attack whooping but hold on to cadence. One might attack whooping and use other forms of rhythm. One will attack whooping and even hold on to some forms of musicality. In short, if whooping is unnecessary then so is the "celebration" at the end of a sermon. If whooping is unnecessary then so is raising ones voice at the "Goodness of Jesus." I think that whooping is a gift to the church that we should not apologize for or give up, but we should attempt to further refine that part of our tradition.


- Sherman Haywood Cox II, 2007

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I feel that this great, pure, ethnic art form known as the Black Sermon remains perhaps the best example of the American oral tradition alive today. Handed down from father to son, preacher to congregation, and radio evangelist to listener, it is pervasive to the extent that it can be heard today in many venues within each major U.S. city, in many smaller communities, and in many rural areas as well. It does not change materially in differing geographical areas, nor does it change radically from "conservative" Baptist and Methodist churches to more "modern" churches such as the Church of God in Christ. It has influenced American "pop" music through infusion of the black Spiritual into the mainstream (note the early music of Sam Cooke), and today remains a strong influence on Black jazz musicians, whose improvisation over a matrix of chord changes parallels that of the preacher chanting extemporaneously of secular matters over a guideline sacred in nature.

Even the call-and-response patterns so plentiful in post-bop jazz improvisations (e.g. "trading fours" in which musicians "talk’ to each other in four-bar sequences) seem to derive from the church. Jazzmen such as Cannonball Adderley and Lee Morgan loved to imitate the preacher in "vocalizing" many of their solos (those who are interested in this aspect of jazz as influenced by Spirituals may want to hear Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" or Art Blakey's "Moanin’" recordings, the latter with Lee Morgan on trumpet).

Black Preaching has been largely homogeneous, but what about its chance for survival as a relatively pure oratory form? Literacy was once seen as a threat, some feeling that the colloquial speech so important to the "sound" of the sermon would disappear as the preacher himself became "better educated." This has not been the case, as preachers today are educated at all levels, from college, to seminary, to hardly any formal education at all, and still preach in the prescribed manner. The hemistich, colloquial, secular/sacred sermon is insisted upon and enjoyed by the majority of black churchgoers in the U.S., and is probably in as little danger of dying as a unique vocal style as White Presbyterianism. It was once said that the Catholic Church was dying because only "a few little old ladies" bothered to attend anymore, and once they were gone there would be no one left. Every generation, however, produced a new generation of little old ladies; the death knell was quite premature.

The Black Church is still vibrant, with all generations represented. It remains a "home", and a real refuge from the storm, come what may. Its sense of the dramatic, colloquialisms, and emphasis on the secular side of the sacred have kept it away from the white mainstream; relentlessly rhythmic, it had forged itself an identity that will, in all probability, assure its survival for generations to come. Those who love the sermon, and expect the preacher and the congregation to engage in a dialogue often frighteningly powerful in its intensity, continue to find that they're into "something they can't shake loose."

- Geoff Alexander, 1986

Just as a good artist is able to touch the human spirit through his or her work, the black preacher uses music to touch the spirit of the listener. The music of black preaching can be understood as sort of a way to "sing praise with the spirit" (1 Cor. 14:15). The surplus expressed in the sermon's music accompanies its rational content, which is expressed in words literally. The rational portion is contained in the formal structure of the sermon, which represents the homiletical and doctrinal tradition in which the preacher stands. The surplus portion is achieved when the preacher becomes an instrument--a flute through which divine air is blown, a harp whose strings are plucked by God. For the sake of the audience, the preacher becomes an oracle through whom a divinely inspired message flows.


- Jana Childers

brother gill i respect you opinion and i think it was well stated for the record. and to add that others should look at the history behind the whoop and its' origin before they become critcal of the matter. you were right it's not nessessary but it'ts has become part of the climatical make up of sermons. some may agree and some may disagree.

It's cultural. Whether a African American Church has it or not, will neither add or take away (from the body of Christ)(it may take away the tradition of some parts of the local body). But we also have to look at it from the stand point-is it benefiting the body. If it isn't benefiting the body at the time, then one needs to stop. At the culmination of Gods plan-Jesus isn't going to say why didn't you hoop in my name, but hes going to ask the most important questions of some not feeding him when he was hungry, not giving him shelter when he was homeless and not giving him anything to drink when he was thirsty. I'm pretty sure hooping will not be on his mind and probably isn't right now, because there is a more important mandate for the Church to focus on. I have seen over and over to many times that hooping has added to the attitude towards the preacher that God describes to Ezekiel recorded in 33:31,-And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. Leaving the service remembering more so the preacher's hooping, more then what was preached. My personal opinion is that its useless in furthering the Body of Christ into the purposes of the Lord Jesus.

Historically speaking, intonation as a factor in Black preaching style no doubt stems from the fact that African languages tend to use tonal qualities as a part of the signal system. What is more, the history of much of Black Africa was preserved, in absence of writing, in song, as were its laws, customs, and traditional folk stories and hero tales. There were also highly spontaneous or impromptu songs for various life situations, such as the voicing of grievances. And there were folktales or fables of wisdom and morality, for guidance in life's problems. This understanding of history and anthropology adds much to the accuracy of our knowledge of the very first Negro spirituals, as contrasted with those edited and published later. It also explains why early Black peddlers (and some to this day) sold ice, coal, fish, and vegetables with street-chanted sales talks. It suggests, too, why eighteenth-century Blacks thronged to hear the sonorous musicality of George Whitefield in the First Great Awakening. What once took the place of print in African culture stayed on to serve Blacks in other ways. It first reminded them of home, and later it was simply something they had to themselves, not shared or understood or controlled by Whites. It was an affirmation of Black identity, a means of celebrating and supporting Black personhood.


- Henry H. Mitchell


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