From Gospel to Gates: Modal Blending in African-American Musical Discourse before the Signifyin(g) Monkey

Christopher Coady


Despite its origins in the literary realm, Henry Louis Gates The Signfiyin(g) Monkey: A Theory of African-American literary criticism has become a standard methodological text for the study of African-American music. Those who embrace the theory accept as the foundation of their argument an apparent link between African-American linguistic and musical realms. This short paper locates the origin of this type of modal blending in research into the rhetorical practices of Gospel services in the United States during the early 1970s. It posits that this body of work established a consensus in the field of Cultural Studies over the affinity of linguistic/musical practices in African-American culture and demonstrates that this understanding was used to justify the application of Gates theory to musical analysis in the 1990s. The ubiquity of Gates theory in the study of African-American music today is therefore shown to be the result of interdisciplinary collaboration rather than the legacy of any one particular individual.


African American Literary Criticism; Signifyin(g); Gospel

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