Ph.D Candidate Chase Castle Published in Journal of the Society for American Music

October 20, 2023

Chase Castle, Benjamin Franklin Fellow and PhD Candidate in Music, has had his research article "Sonic Domination and the Politics of Race in Southern Antebellum Hymnody" published in Journal of the Society for American Music 17, no. 4. Castle discusses how religious music, particularly hymns, was used in the antebellum South for political purposes, with white elites using hymns to assert white supremacy and maintain control over enslaved populations, while enslaved Black Christians found ways to use hymns to convey hidden meanings and resist oppression.


Religious music served a political function in the southern United States during the antebellum period. This article examines catechisms and hymnbooks used by white evangelical missionaries and slaveowners in the antebellum South, arguing that the planter elite deployed hymns as a medium to assert white supremacy. The term sonic domination identifies processes whereby sound functioned as a social tool to maintain discipline and order among the enslaved population. Black and white people sang hymns in church, at interracial revivals, and during civic services; they were also heard on bells and cited in poetry. English texts and tunes included in slave catechisms and white portrayals of Black singing highlight the role of evangelical hymns in maintaining plantation order in the Old South. At the same time, enslaved Black Christians found creative ways to circumvent the oppressive power of the white elite through song. African Americans employed English hymns in their own religious rituals and used them to convey hidden meanings on the plantation. Both genres, which interacted and ultimately influenced each other, contributed to an eventual codification of American evangelical hymnody.

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