NEWS: John Mellencamp and African-American Religion

The search for authenticity is everywhere. Musicians argue over what is true to the original expression, whether rap, folk, blues, or anything attached to a history of struggle. The same can be said about religious experience. But what is truly authentic? At what point does something cease being authentic? In true Americana form, singer and songwriter John Mellencamp included the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia as one of the sites for his latest recording project. Continuing in the tradition of populist music (Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger), Mellencamp’s choice of venue went beyond mere attempts to represent what is thought to be “exotic.” In this case, he was invited to take part in the culture. In response to his lyric “I ain’t been baptized,” members of the church invited Mellencamp to enter the waters. He states that he was honored, given the history of the church and the area. Historian Paul Harvey provides a compelling glimpse into Mellencamp’s new work, his respect for the parishioners, and his interview with NPR’s Tavis Smiley. Read the full story here.

Related articles

Pinn, A. (2008), Black Theology: A Survey of Its Past, Present, and Future. Religion Compass, 2: 160–179. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2008.00060.x

Stowe, D. W. (2010), Both American and Global: Jazz and World Religions in the United States. Religion Compass, 4: 312–323. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2009.00212.x

Weiner, I. A. (2009), Sound and American Religions. Religion Compass, 3: 897–908. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2009.00164.x

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