“Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing”: Music and worship in African American megachurches of Los Angeles, California

2008 2008

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Abstract (summary)

This dissertation is an ethnographic account of African American sacred music performed in the worship services of African American megachurches in Los Angeles, California. A megachurch is a church with a congregation of at least five thousand members or one whose Sunday morning services has at least twenty-five hundred people in attendance. To illustrate how African American religious music traditions have been maintained and changed, I have documented and examined the musical styles preferred by members of three predominantly African American megachurches in metropolitan Los Angeles: First African Methodist Episcopal Church, West Angeles Church of God in Christ, and Faithful Central Bible Church.

Scholars have demonstrated that ethnic identity and the social realities of African Americans are often expressed in their music. As the conditions of Black life in America change, so does the music produced by African Americans, causing stylistic changes to be inevitable. However, there are times when stylistic changes are deliberately adopted to create an ideal environment or familiar atmosphere in a new context. The emergence of African American megachurches in cities across the country over the last thirty years has provided new contexts for African American Christian worship.

Through comparative analysis of the three congregations as well as a case study of the Faithful Central, I have: (1) delineated how Black megachurches are preserving older genres of African American sacred music (i.e. hymns, spirituals, classic gospel), (2) described the musical and non-musical factors that influence the music preferences of congregations, and (3) described the degree(s) to which some large urban congregations are adapting praise and worship to overcome the challenges to interactive and intimate worship.

To place these churches within the context of the historic Black Church tradition, I present information on African American sacred music, the gospel music community of Los Angeles, the megachurch movement and its growth among African American congregations, and the incorporation of contemporary Christian music's praise and worship music style in contemporary gospel. Building on ideas concerning musical change proposed by J. H. Kwabena Nketia, John Blacking, and others, my conceptual framework casts musical continuity over time alongside recent adaptations and adjustments in worship services.

Indexing (details)

Black studies;
Black history;
Early childhood education
0325: Black studies
0328: Black history
0413: Music
0518: Early childhood education
Identifier / keyword
Communication and the arts; Social sciences; Education; African-American; African-American music; California; Gospel music; Los Angeles; Megachurch; Music/ethnomusicology; Praise and worship; Sacred music; Worship
“Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing”: Music and worship in African American megachurches of Los Angeles, California
Johnson, Birgitta Joelisa
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 69/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
DjeDje, Jacqueline Cogdell
University of California, Los Angeles
University location
United States -- California
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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