Preaching on Wax

For this assignment, I was meant to watch an interview with Dr. Lerone Martin on the Left of Black at the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University, Dr. Lerone Martin speaking on the evolution of Black spiritual music, and an article about the contents of his book, Preaching on Wax: Phonograph and the Shaping of Modern African American Religion. These videos and article with Dr. Lerone Martin give a small insight into the African American culture surrounding religion and the media and their intersections. Dr. Martin was raised on tele-evangelism and thus surrounded by this combination and wanted to know how it came about.

Book Cover of Preaching on Wax

Through these pieces, Martin explains that the affuent and educated images used by preachers were meant to expand their popularity, not just for the sake of being popular, but to spread their message farther. These people use their celebrity status, fancy clothes, educated tones, and more to create credibility with their audiences. He warns, however, that for some their message can be warped to improve popularity.

Originally, preachers recorded their sermons on records to combat the popular jazz and blues artists of the times. He finds connects to the practice in the past and the present of the time. Martin connects the musical speech to work songs and the double entendres, slaves would sing to each other to communicate in secret and encourage each other through a day of hard work. Martin also connected the recorded sermons to gospel with the use of call-and-answer and a large pause from the speaker. The call-and-answer, according to Martin, originated in West Africa as a method of storytelling to get the audience engaged and create community. The large pause from a speaker is meant to signify a space where the divine enters and speaks to the audience through the speaker.

Black and white photograph of train

When I first heard the record by Rev. J. M. Gates, I honestly did not notice it was a sermon. I recognized the religion connections in the words, but it just sounded like a strange and ominous song to me. Even when I heard it was a sermon, it did not mean much to me. However, when Prof. Lerone Martin mentioned his exposure to evangelism as a child, something clicked. In that interview, there was a question about how to keep the integrity in religion while selling the records as a commodity. I wondered this too and whether the message was made into more of a show and entertainment to get views and how far that actually went. I wondered if people would have been honest about their truth motivations if Dr. Martin had asked them. I wish I had more experience with how preaching actually was outside of media so I had something to compare it too.  For now, my questions remain unanswered.

3 thoughts on “Preaching on Wax

  1. Hey Cole, the last few sentences of your blog post is something I was thinking about. With the use of technology devices, the preachers are not only thinking about the lessons they teach but also their business. This might stir them in the wrong direction if they weigh more on the business side.

  2. These are some solid questions. To add to those, I wonder, since Christianity changed so much, from its origin in the first followers of Christ to medieval England all the way to the beginnings of America, is there really integrity left in that particular religion? White people often used it to justify slavery and racism (some still do), so what really defines the integrity of a religion that is so easily tainted?

  3. I like your point that public figures begin to warp their opinions as a way to gain popularity. I find that it happens very often in the United States where celebrities get wrapped up in the fame and forget to stay strong to their personal beliefs.

Leave a Reply