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

Full Text:



Abrahams, R. 1964, Deep Down in the Jungle: Black American Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia. Folklore Associates, Hatboro, PA.

Appiah, K. A. & Gates, H. L. 1999, Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. Basic Civitas, New York.

Atkins, T. 2001, Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan. Durham, Duke University Press.

Austerlitz, P. 2005, Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity. Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press.

Baker, H. 1987, Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Berliner, P. 1994, Thinking in Jazz. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Bonds, M. E. 1991, Wordless Rhetoric: Musical Form and Metaphor of the Oration. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Burlin, N. 1919, 'Negro Music at Birth, ' The Musical Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 1, 8689.

Chernoff, J. M. 1979, African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

DeVeaux, S. 1991 'Constructing the Jazz Tradition: Jazz Historiography, ' Black American Literature Forum, vol. 25, no. 3, 525560.

Evans, M. 1995, 'The Roundtable on Integrative Inquiry, ' Lennox Avenue, vol. 1, no. 1, 561.

Feld, S. 1974, 'Linguistic Models in Ethnomusicology, ' Ethnomusicology, vol. 18, no. 2, 197217.

Fenstermaker, A. 2008, Bridging the Gap Between (White) Metafiction and (Black) Self-Reflexivity. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Rochester.

Floyd, S. 1995a, The Power of Black Music: Interpreting its History from Africa to the United States. Oxford University Press, New York.

Floyd, S. 1995b, 'The Roundtable on Integrative Inquiry, ' Lennox Avenue, vol. 1, no. 1, 561.

Fry, A. 2007, 'Review of Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race and Humanity by Paul Austerlitz, ' Music and Letters, vol 88. no. 2, 335340.

Garland, P. 1969, The Sound of Soul. H. Regenery Co., Chicago.

Gates, H. L. 1988, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. Oxford University Press, New York.

Green, E. 2008, 'It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Grungestalt!Ellington from a Motivic Perspective, ' Jazz Perspectives, vol. 2, no. 2, 215249.

Goss, L. & Barnes, M. 1989, Talk That Talk: An Anthology of African-American Storytelling. Simon & Schuster, New York.

Harris, M. 1992, The Rise of the Gospel Blues. Oxford University Press, New York.

Heilbut, A. 1971, The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times. Simon & Schuster, New York.

Henderson, S. 1973, Understanding the New Black Poetry; Black Speech and Black Music as Poetic Reference. Morrow, New York.

Howland, J. 2007, 'The Blues Get Glorified: Harlem Entertainment, Negro Nuances, and Black Symphonic Jazz, ' The Musical Quarterly, vol. 90, no. 3/4, 319370.

Hutcheon, L. 1989. The Politics of Postmodernism. Routledge, New York.

Jones, A. 2001, Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age. Duke University Press, Durham, NC, & London.

Kramer, L. 1990, Music as Cultural Practice, 18001900. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Magee, J. 2007, 'Kinds of Blue: Miles Davis, Afro-Modernism, and the Blues, ' Jazz Perspectives, vol. 1, no. 1, 527.

Mitchell-Kernan, C. 1972, 'Signfiying, Loud-Talking and Marking, ' in Signifyin(g), Sanctifin', & Slam Dunking: A Reader in African-American Expressive Culture. 1999, (ed.) G. D. Caponi, University of Massachusetts Press, Massachusetts, 309330.

Murphy, J. P. 1990, 'Jazz Improvisation: The Joy of Influence, ' The Black Perspective in Music, vol. 18, no. 1/2, 719.

Myers, D. G. 1990, 'Signifying Nothing, ' New Criterion, vol. 8 (February), 6164.

Ramsey, G. 2001, 'Who Hears Here? Black Music, Critical Bias, and the Musicological Skin Trade, ' The Musical Quarterly, vol. 85, no. 1, 152.

Ramsey, G. P. 2003, Race Music: Black Culture from Bebop to Hip-Hop. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Rojas, F. 2007, From Black Power to Black Studies. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Smitherman, G. 1977, Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI.

Snead, J. A. 1981, 'On Repetition in Black Culture, ' Black American Literature Forum, vol. 15, no. 4, 146154.

Still, W. G. 1970, Afro-American Symphony, score, revised edition. Novello, London.

Tindley, C. 1905, New Songs of Paradise. E.T. Tindley, Lansing, MI.

Tomlinson, G. 1991, 'Cultural Dialogics and Jazz: A White Historian Signifies, ' Black Music Research Journal, vol. 11, no. 2, 229264.

Tonsor, J. 1892, 'Negro Music, ' Music, vol. 3, 119122.

Williams-Jones, P. 1975, 'Afro-American Gospel Music: A Crystallization of the Black Aesthetic, ' Ethnomusicology, vol. 19, no. 3, 373385.

Winn, J. 1995, 'The Roundtable on Integrative Inquiry, ' Lennox Avenue, vol. 1, no. 1, 561.