Indians got rhythm: Lumbee and African American church song.

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Maynor, Malinda. “Indians got rhythm: Lumbee and African American church song.” North Dakota Quarterly 67.3-4 (2000): 72-91.


This essay provides a detailed, perceptive analysis of Lumbee home and church music, with an exploration of the influences on that music's development. Maynor also touches briefly on gospel sings and on pow-wows (although their Plains singing style has not influenced Lumbee religious music).

Maynor gives both an outsiders' and a first-hand account based on her own family experiences of the sound of Lumbee music. Outsiders would observe that church singing may be accompanied by tambourines, foot stomping and rattles; voices have “an open-throated, nasal quality, and we generally carry a different sense of pitch from standard Western music when singing informally or as a congregation” (p. 76); congregational singing is usually heterophony rather than part-harmony; and long-meter hymns are sung a capella. Maynor and her uncle, Mike Cummings, relate that Lumbee singing evokes feelings of home, homesickness, and searching: “. . . when my family harmonizes together on the last note of a song, our voices waver as we find the right pitches. We are searching together for our home in Heaven, with loved ones who have gone on. But our definition of the 'right' pitch signifies that we are present together as well, with a constant awareness of our relationship to one another in this world. The standard of good Lumbee singing . . . is set by how well the singers function together and how well our pitches fit each other” (p. 76).

Maynor also gives historical background on how the Lumbee first gained knowledge of Christianity and then, as a group, settled on Protestant Christianity. She discusses the origins of long-meter singing in the early Puritan church in America and its persistence in Southern Black churches and among the Lumbee, declining in Lumbee churches only in the last 20-30 years. Then, she explains Lumbee participation in camp meetings and formation of separate Methodist and Baptist church conferences. Finally, she discusses Lumbee adoption of shape-note singing and formation of singing schools and singing conventions.

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16 notes, 19 works cited, 2 illustrations