Can I Get an Amen?
The spoken word, be it through song, story, proverbs, or verbal interplay has been critical to the black community. It is through the spoken word that tradition is communicated and passed from generation to generation. The black church has played a pivotal role in the oral tradition of African Americans, since as Geneva Smitherman reminds us,
“The traditional black church is the oldest and perhaps still the most powerful and influential black institution.”
It is the place where much of the black community goes to exchange information, to find support, refuge, opportunity, and it is the place where African American tradition is shared and maintained. So, it should not be surprising to see the sacred seeping into the secular world and vice versa. Check out James Brown in 1956 and Michael Jackson, 30+ years later (1988), to see the intersection of the secular world with the sacred world, which cannot be denied in African American expression. Here, we see patterns of expression that are reminiscent of worshipping patterns found in the church including spontaneous call and responses, hollers and shouts, intensely emotional singing, spiritual possession (“catching the spirit”), and extemporaneous testimonials to the power of the Holy Spirit.
James Brown (starts at roughly 0:50)
Michael Jackson (starts at roughly 4:00)