Black Gospel music honored through new faculty position

The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project will now have it's own faculty chair in order to expand its research in Black worship and preaching studies. Courtesy Photo

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

The Black Gospel Music Restoration Project began at Baylor well over a decade ago. Now, the project will have its own faculty chair, giving Baylor the funding and personnel to expand and continue the research and scholarship in Black worship, preaching and studies.

Malcolm Foley, director of the Black church studies program and the special adviser to the president for equity and campus engagement, said the chair position will allow Baylor to continue contributing to the scholarship of historically Black musical traditions.

“Music has always lain at the core of Black resistance to white supremacy and the affirmation of Black dignity, whether we look at the spirituals, gospel or blues,” Foley said. “There is no way to comprehensively describe or do justice to the Black theological tradition without significant engagement with music.”

Robert Darden, professor in the department of journalism, public relations and new media and the author of three books about gospel music with another underway, said having the endowed chair means the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project will thrive and will have a permanent home at Baylor.

“Baylor, as one of the preeminent universities in the world with a historic emphasis on faith, is the perfect place to study and celebrate African American sacred music,” Darden said. “We’d like to see Baylor as the focal point for the study and celebration of Black preaching and music – and the scholarly study of both elements.”

A gift from the Prichard Family Foundation of $1.5 million will establish the The Lev H. Prichard III Chair in the Study of Black Worship at Baylor. According to a press release from the university, the chair will help further the Black Gospel Restoration Project.

“The Lev H. Prichard III Chair in the Study of Black Worship, established in memory of Ella Prichard’s husband Lev H. Prichard III, will serve as an interdisciplinary position that will conduct research and concentrate on efforts associated with the growth, preservation and promotion of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project collection and Black sacred music, Black worship and other relevant studies,” the press release said.

President Linda Livingstone said in the press release the university is extremely thankful for Ella Wall Prichard, B.A. ’63, and the Prichard Family Foundation’s gift to further the preservation of Black music.

“The Prichard Chair will further Baylor’s work in the preservation of Black Gospel music, but it will go beyond that – the Chair will open new areas of research into the cultural significance and into the history of Black Worship and the Church in America,” Livingstone said. “As a Baptist University, we celebrate this opportunity to expand our study of this significant part of our Christian history and culture.”

The donation was made in honor of Ella Prichard’s late husband, Lev H. Prichard III.

“Ella Prichard said those old songs were more than an affinity – they represented a deep love of music that had been nurtured in [her husband] at a young age,” the press release said. “Lev died in 2009, but before his death, he made his last gift to Baylor, split between scholarships and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. Later that same year, the Prichard Family Foundation established the Lev H. Prichard III Black Sacred Music Endowed Fund.”

Darden said his love of gospel music began when he was a little boy and that he is always excited to continue the work of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project.

“It gives me a thrill in the spirit that no other musical format can come close to,” Darden said. “It’s the foundational music of all American popular music; everything still stems from it. It’s the original source material. It makes me happy. It helps me praise God. And it has a great beat.”