The Evolution of Sacred Music and Its Rituals in Watauga County, North Carolina: A Comparison of Congregational Song in Two Independent Missionary Baptist Churches

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Meredith Abigail Doster (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site:
James R. Goff

Abstract: Shape-note traditions are both a style and practice of rural hymnody that contribute to the varied canon of American folk hymnody. The history of shape-note traditions in the United States highlights the polarity between the early four and seven-shape traditions and the ensuing seven-shape gospel movement, defining the former as traditional and the latter as popular and modern. The designation of gospel music as a popular phenomenon resulted in a variety of responses that shaped the representation of the genre within Appalachia. This thesis is an exploration of seven-shape gospel music and its persistence within rural, independent Baptist churches in Watauga County, North Carolina. I began exploring seven-shape gospel music under the assumption that I was dealing with an obscure singing tradition unique to a small number of rural churches. Therefore, I focused my attention on Mount Lebanon and Mountain Dale Baptist Churches, whose singing practices have been and continue to be defined by seven-shape gospel music. In January 2009, I began observing and researching the singing traditions of these two churches, attending Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening services, having selected these specific congregations for their different interpretations of a shared shape-note heritage. In addition to participant observation, I also conducted interviews with several members of each congregation, focusing in particular on the two choir directors. Over the course of my research, patterns in worship order and style emerged that indicated an intrinsic connection between the rural, independent Baptist church and the seven-shape gospel tradition. My ongoing interviews corroborated that Mount Lebanon and Mountain Dale Churches were not sole remnants of a dying, seven-shape gospel tradition, but rather two examples of an enduring regional practice that persists within the independent Baptist churches in the tri-state area of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and southwest Virginia. As I delved deeper into the history and roots of seven-shape gospel music in Watauga County, I uncovered an entrenched regional singing tradition characterized by monthly and annual singing conventions, indicating a popularity that confounded my initial perception of the movement as an isolated, rural phenomenon. My case study of two rural churches has therefore necessarily shifted to accommodate the vibrant history of rural hymnody in the United States and its controversial representation and preservation in Appalachia, raising important questions about the limitations of regional scholarship that has heretofore discounted the seven-shape gospel tradition as a trait of indigenous worship.

Additional Information

Doster, M.A. (2010). The Evolution of Sacred Music and Its Rituals in Watauga County, North Carolina: A Comparison of Congregational Song in Two Independent Missionary Baptist Churches. Unpublished master's thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2010

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