The 2021 Pop Convergence: A Virtual Pop Conference, April 22-25th
Artwork by Alex Nero; Design by The Art Dictator

Ambre Dromgoole

“God feeling”: On Black Girl Musicians and the Sanctified Church
                   When asked to reflect on her childhood accompanying Black pentecostal congregations in Detroit, legendary jazz musician and composer Alice Coltrane said “the people in the audience were so overcome by the spirit, they weren’t singing anymore; some were just walking around the church. Half of the choir had been carried out.” While remembered for the innovative ways her syncretic spirituality informed her compository voice, few scholars recognize the specific ways that her childhood experiences accompanying Black pentecostal congregations influenced her theomusicological development. My research chronicles the experiences and innovations of teenage Black girl musicians who, similar to Alice Coltrane, navigated early 20th century Black pentecostal revival circuits. I consider how their circuitous movement in, out, and around rural and urban spaces, shaped them and their relationships to religion, intimacy, music, and each other, while recognizing their contributions to not only Black sacred musics, but the American popular music industry writ large. I take care in unpacking the haphazard espousal of popular Black women singers and musicians' childhoods “singing in church,” which too often essentializes their experience. Instead, I establish the revival space as a conservatory for Black girl musicians. Continuous movement, musical training, and religious formation in their formative years ultimately shapes American religious and popular culture industries. These children of revival eventually become our Ernestine Washingtons, Sister Rosetta Tharpes, and Alice Coltranes. In this paper I argue that their adolescent musical exposure in churches and revivals are at the root of their propensities to continue bending genres and doctrines well into adulthood. While scholars have written about Black women evangelists, preachers, and musicians, I consider the ways Black children and adolescents helped form, and were formed by, Black pentecostal revival circuits during the Great Migration.

Ambre Dromgoole (pronounced Amber Drum-ghoul) is a 4th year PhD candidate in the departments of African American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale University. Her dissertation, “There’s a Heaven Somewhere: Itinerancy, Intimacy, and Performance in the Lives of Gospel Blues Women, 1915-1983,” positions the friendships, micro-interactions, and collaborations of an intimate circle of Black women gospel musicians as untilled sites of critical Black feminist engagement, sociohistorical consideration, and nuanced religious analysis.