Horace Clarence Boyer: How Sweet the Sound

Paul Harvey

Horace Clarence Boyer, pioneering scholar of the history of black gospel and the author of How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel, died earlier this year, and a celebration of his life and work appeared today on NPR; hear it here. Boyer started How Sweet the Sound when, as a student at Eastman School of Music, he was discouraged from studying the African American gospel tradition because there were no materials available for such a work. Boyer used his connections and early performing career (including appearing as a warm-up act for Mahalia Jackson) to create the materials, a well from which scholars have since drawn.

Boyer was also a contributor to We'll Understand it Better By and By, edited by Bernice Johnson Reagon, where he took a bit of his work on the pioneering composer Charles Albert Tindley (a key figure in reviving and bringing back to life the older tune "I Shall Overcome," which later became -- well, you know what it became) and presented it in a gem of an essay for this volume. In this volume he also did the same for Lucie Campbell, Tindley's contemporary and author of numerous gospel classics. And then he did the same for Thomas Dorsey, William Herbert Brewster (author of "Move On Up a Little Higher," which Mahalia Jackson turned into a classic recording), and Roberta Martin.

Boyer was hugely influential for my own work, and the interview above brings his voice back to life.


Michael Utzinger said…
For years our church used his hymnal: "Lift every Voice and Sing II." His visit to the same church to discuss African-American hymnody was a memorable experience.
Dr. butler said…
This is a big loss. Very sad. Hope his papers were in order,and will be available.
Anonymous said…
His contributions were huge and his passing deserves notice, but he actually died July 21, 2009, not this week. Of course, late news is better than not recognizing him at all.
Paul Harvey said…
Whoops! I misheard the report. Corrected now.