Enriching Our Worship Music Afro-Centrically

Collection of Afro-centric hymnals

In a recent Facebook post, Indiana Diocesan Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows commented that it was the music of David Hurd that drew her to the Episcopal Church. Her testimony resonated with me. It was the service music of the mass, Healey Willan’s Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena, in particular, that captured me and drew me as a 13-year old organist into the Episcopal Church. However, upon closer examination, I discovered it was more than the music. It was the simplicity, structure, and emotional impact of the Roman mass interpreted through the Episcopal lens that captured and propelled my spirit. Long, long, long ago, the “mass” was a music form studied in public school music programs along with sonata allegro form, binary form, and rounded binary form. Hence, the mass structure impacted my daily life intellectually, musically, as well as spiritually.

However, like the Willan, all of the mass settings found in the then sanctioned Episcopal The Hymnal 1940, were all Euro-centric. Things did not change much in this regard with The Hymnal 1982. Although The Hymnal 1982 included a mass setting by aforementioned African American composer David Hurd, his New Plainsong Mass was intentionally reminiscent of the very European Gregorian chant mold as opposed to Afro-centric vernacular or folk style.

Moreover, in these days of talk of prayer book and hymnal revision, is the mass format still a viable form of worship or should the Episcopal Church look at new models, for example, the Rick Warren or the Praise and Worship model? The seed for a new model was planted and sprouted with the publication of the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). The “traditionalists” stood their ground and successfully got Rite I with “King James English” (for example: “And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine”).[1]

On the other hand, the “modernists” successfully negotiated a compromise worship model in Rite II where the language was more contemporary USA English and there were more Eucharistic Prayer options (A, B, C and D) (for example, from the 1977 Eucharistic Prayer A: “…we offer you these gifts. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him”).[2]

Then there were the “progressives” who succeeded in including “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist.” In spite of the rubric “It is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist,”[3] many congregations used the spirit of this Order for creating new Eucharistic worship rites and thus opened the door for the Resolution A169 of the 2015 General Convention that directs the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) “to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.” Recognizing that the Episcopal Church had in the 21st century a different ethnic and cultural look than in the 20th century that spawned the 1979 BCP, Resolution A169 goes further and directs “that such a plan for revision utilize the riches of our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship….”

It is this directive that any new 21st century Episcopal Church worship music must support. Whether Rite I or Rite II, Episcopal worship music can be greatly enriched by the inclusion of music of the African Diaspora.[4] This holds true whether the ethnicity of the worshipers is primarily of the African Diaspora or not. Since the primary goal of the worship music should be to reinforce the Propers, the scripture readings of the day, Afro-centric liturgical music infuses the Propers with an energy and spirit not present in the primarily Euro-centric music found in most Episcopal music compendiums. More often than not, the exclusion of music of the African Diaspora in many Episcopal churches is related to the lack of knowledge of Afro-centric music or the lack of knowledge of Afro-centric musical performance practices, or the lack of access at the individual church level to scores embodying music of the African Diaspora by both the music leader and/or the rector, as well as any combination of the foregoing.

With the exception of the season of Lent for some churches, many Episcopal services begin with a prelude and end with a postlude. Often, the prelude and postlude are performed on an organ. To eliminate the excuse of lack of knowledge of Afro-centric organ music resources, here follows a list of African Diasporic composers who have written for the organ and whose music can be found and ordered using the websites of major publishing houses such as MorningStar Music Publishers, GIA Music Publications, E. C. Schirmer and others:

African Diasporic Composers of Organ Music[5]

Adams, Leslie

Belfield, Roy

Braithwaite, J. Roland

Brown, Uzee

Coleman, Charles D.

Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel

Cooper, William B.

Curenton, Evelyn Simpson

Da Costa, Noel

Fax, Mark

Fuller, Calvin

Garrett, Marques L.A.

Hailstork, Adolphus

Hancock, Eugene

Harris, Robert A.

Henry, Raymond

Kay, Ulysses

Kerr, Thomas H.

King, Betty Jackson

MaultsBy, Carl

McIntyre, Phillip Barnette

Moore, Undine Smith

Norman, Ruth

Price, Florence B.

Sexton, Henry

Simon, Walter

Simpson, Ralph

Singleton, Adam

Smith, William Farley

Sowande, Fela

Taylor, Calvin

Walker, George

Work III, John W.

Irrespective of the rite, most sung Episcopal services include some congregational songs or hymns. Hence, the first obvious resource for hymns of the Episcopal African Diaspora is Lift Every Voice and Sing II (LEVAS 2). Given that LEVAS 2 was published in 1993, its offerings are at best dated. Until the issuance of either a Lift Every Voice and Sing III or a new Episcopal hymnal that would encompass the best of LEVAS 2 plus an updated significant body of new African Diasporic congregational songs, here are other hymnal resources:

Hymnals of the African Diasporic Worship Experience

African American Heritage Hymnal

Lead Me, Guide Me 

Lead Me, Guide Me II

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lift Every Voice and Sing II

Songs of Zion

This Far by Faith

Total Praise

Wonder, Love, and Praise

Yes, Lord!

Zion Still Sings

Introducing new hymns to a congregation can be a delicate move. There are those congregants who don’t want to sing anything that they didn’t learn as a child versus those who want to sing only contemporary music. A technique that I recommend is to first introduce the “new” hymn as an instrumental prelude, Communion processional (if appropriate), or postlude. Then, the following week, have the choir sing the piece as an anthem. If the piece will work at Communion time, have the choir sing it as the first Communion hymn. There generally are one or two folk who are chomping at the bits to join the singing. However, many communicants are focused on the countdown to when it is his/her turn to receive the elements and the fact that a new Communion hymn is being sung will garner little resistance. Finally, instead of a played prelude, teach the “new” hymn as part of a congregational hymn-sing before the start of the service.

Inasmuch as both “The Holy Eucharist: Rite I” and “The Holy Eucharist: Rite II” from The Book of Common Prayer are the principal orders of service for the majority of Episcopal Churches, and given that both rites are based on the order of the mass, then the fixed sung chants of the mass, called the “Ordinary” (Kyrie, Gloria in excelsis, Sanctus et Benedictus, Memorial Acclamation, Amen, and Fraction Anthems) readily provide an opportunity to introduce Afro-centric music. Although many parishes use the jukebox approach, i. e., mixing movements of the mass from different mass settings, there are many Afro-centric masses that work in their entirety when used as a single unit. Historically, the jukebox approach may stem from practice that “before the thirteenth century the constituent parts of the Mass were often copied into separate books.”[6] The Hymnal 1982-Service Music follows the jukebox approach in which all of the Kyries are listed together, S84-S98, followed by all of the Trisagions, S99-S102, then the Credos, S103-S105, etc.

Contrastingly, The Hymnal 1940 includes eight mass settings called “Communion Services,” in which a particular composer’s mass setting is printed in order of liturgical performance order. The late 20th century and into the 21st century gave rise to more congregationally friendly mass settings in which the Ordinary[7], especially the communion portions, worked especially well as a unified entity. Given that it would be a rare liturgy in which the text of the Eucharistic Prayers after the Sursum Corda begin with one version (for illustrative purposes, Eucharistic Prayer A, then, after the Memorial Acclamation, switch to Eucharistic Prayer B, then switch to Eucharistic Prayer C for the Great Doxology), then I submit that when the mass is sung, the music should be, when possible, from one single mass setting. Both the singing ability of the congregation as well as the performance ability of the music leader can be factors that limit such an approach. However, there are single settings that work, e. g., Faith, Hope and Charity: A Mass by M. Roger Holland.

Other examples are:

Mass Settings by African Diasporic Composers[8]

Brown, Grayson Warren, A Mass for a Soulful People

Brown, Grayson Warren, Cast Your Bread upon the Water

Burleigh, Glenn, Alpha Mass: A Kingdom Celebration

Cooper, William B., Cooper Mass

Duncan, Norah IV, Holy Name of Jesus Mass

Duncan, Norah IV, Unity Mass

Gibson, Timothy, Gibson Mass

Haywood, Carl, Mass for Grace

Holland, M. Roger, Faith, Hope and Charity: A Mass

Hurd, David, Intercession Mass

Hurd, David, New Plainsong Mass

Hurd, David, Missa Orbis Factor

Hurd, David, Music for Celebration

Louis, Kenneth W., Mass of St. Cyprian

MaultsBy, Carl, The St. Luke Mass for Healing

MaultsBy, Carl, The St. Mary Mass

McLin, Lena, Eucharist of the Soul

Ray, Robert, Gospel Mass

Rivers, Clarence Joseph, Mass Dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man

Roberts, Leon, Mass of St. Augustine

The choral anthem at the offertory is a major part of most Sunday principal Episcopal services, especially during the choir season[9]. Unfortunately, most African Diasporic composers are perceived by Euro-centric choir directors as composers of only gospel music or conservatory style spirituals. By the nature of Black worship, African Diasporic composers write in the style of the full spectrum of sacred music. The works of the following African Diasporic composers will expand the stylistic range of choral offerings of any singing group:

African Diasporic Composers of Choral Music

Adams, Leslie

Ames, Jeffrey

Anderson, T.J.

Antrom, Carol

Baker, David

Baity, Judith

Becton, Shelton

Belfield, Roy

Bignon, James

Billups, Kenneth

Boatner, Edward

Bond, Margaret

Boyer, Horace

Bradford, Alex

Brinson, Hezekiah

Brown, Charles

Brown, Grayson Warren

Brown, Uzee

Burleigh, Glenn

Burleigh, Harry T.

Butler, Mark

Cage, Byron

Campbell, Lucy

Carr, Kurt

Carter, Roland

Cheatham, Wallace McClain

Clark, Rogie Edgar

Clary, Salone

Cleveland, James

Cloud, Lee

Coleman Charles D.

Cooper, William B.

Courtney, Carey

Crouch, Andrae

Crouch, Sandra

Curtis, Marvin

Dandridge, Damon H.

Cunningham, Arthur

Davis, Elmer

Dawson, William L.

Dennard, Brazeal Wayne

DePaur, Leonard

Dett, R. Nathaniel

Dillworth, Rollo

Diton, Carl R.

Douroux, Margaret

Duncan, John

Duncan, Norah IV

Edwards, Leo

Farrow, Larry

Fax, Mark

Ferdinand, Jason Max

Franklin, Kirk

Furman, James

Gibbs, Stacey V.

Gibson, Timothy

Grant, Mikki

Gregory, Percy

Haddon, Detrick

Hailstork, Adolphus C. III

Hairston, Jacqueline

Hairston, Jester

Hammond, Fred

Hancock, Eugene

Handy, William C.

Harbor, Rawn

Harper, Donnie

Harris, Robert A.

Hawkins, Edwin

Hawkins, Walter

Haywood, Carl

Holland, M. Roger

Hogan, Moses

Houghton, Israel

Hurd, David

James, Willis Laurence James

Jessye, Eva

Johnson, Hall

Johnson, John Rosamond

Johnson, Victor C.

Joubert, Joseph

Kay, Ulysses

Kee, John P.

Kerr, Thomas H., Jr.

King, Betty Jackson

Lawrence, Donald

Logan, Wendell

Louis, Kenneth W.

Margetston, Edward

MaultsBy, Carl

Mayes, Robert

McAllister, Judith

McClurkin, Donnie

McDowell, William

McKay, Michael

McLin, Lena

Mells, Herbert F.

Merrifield, Norman

Miller, Douglas

Miller, Mark

Milloy, Steve

Moore, Dorothy Rudd

Moore, Undine Smith

Morman, Joyce Solomon

Morris, Kenneth

Morris, Robert L.

Morrow, David

Norwood, Dorothy

Parker, Reginald

Peeples, Dottie

Perry, Julia

Pittman, Evelyn La Rue

Price, John E.

Ray, Robert

Reece, Cortez D.

Rivers, Clarence Joseph

Roberts, Howard

Roberts, Leon

Ryder, Noah Francis

Sapp, Marvin

Shaw, Kirby

Simpson-Curenton, Evelyn

Simpson, Eugene Thamon

Smallwood, Richard

Smith, William H.

Still, William Grant

Stor, Jean

Southall, Mitchell Bernard

Thomas, André

Thompson, Jewel Taylor

Walker, George

Walker, Hezekiah

Ward, Clara

Whalum, Wendell

White, Clarence Cameron

White, Donald Lee

Williams, Arnold K.

Williams, Julius, Jr.

Wilson, Eli, Jr.

Wooten, Robert, Sr.

Work III, John W.

Wynans, BeBe

African Diasporic worship music is constantly growing. Black sacred music is often driven by gospel radio. Young Black worshippers often demand to hear in church the same music they hear on Black gospel radio. This leads to a process of “congregationalization,” i. e., the congregation singing songs that began as pieces sung by the choir that were first played on the radio or issued as sound recordings. For example, Doris Aker’s “We’ve Come This Far by Faith,” Richard Smallwood’s “I Love the Lord,” and, more recently, Hezekiah Walker’s “Every Praise.” Hence, the print hymnal market will constantly be dated and behind the curve of songs Black congregations enjoy singing.

In spite of the foregoing, I submit that the call for, creation, and publication of a Lift Every Voice and Sing III (LEVAS 3) would be a useful tool for enriching Episcopal worship Afro-centrically by providing a readily available compendium of African Diasporic music. Such a volume could also provide the Church an opportunity to expand its collection of Afro-centric canticles, mass settings and psalms, both responsorial as well as well as Anglican chants. The latter would prove especially useful in those congregations that still celebrate Morning and Evening Prayer. Moreover, the mere eight psalm settings found in LEVAS 2 are insufficient, albeit functional.

Other areas of Afro-centric worship music voids that a LEVAS 3 could fill are more hymns for Communion, Baptism, Christmas, and Easter. In a Church, where Communion is often celebrated weekly, I submit a minimum of fifty-two hymns specifically on the Eucharistic themes of Jesus’ Body as bread and Blood as wine would help alleviate the tedium of the singing the same half dozen Communion hymns ad nauseam. From an “old school” perspective, fifty-two hymns on the theme of Jesus’ Body as bread and additional fifty-two hymns on the theme of Jesus’ Blood as wine would be preferable.

A forthcoming African-American ecumenical hymnal by GIA Publications is slated to have 695 entries of which ninety-five percent would be useable in Episcopal worship. One can readily see that a new Episcopal hymnal in the form of a single book would be quite prodigious if 660 entries of the African-American experience alone were included with music of the various other ethnicities represented in The Episcopal Church. On the other hand, an online new Episcopal hymnal would mitigate the size limitations imposed by a hardcover publication. Irrespective of the format, there is clearly a need for a Lift Every Voice and Sing III (LEVAS 3).

Moreover, if the Episcopal Church is going to realize Bishop Michael Curry’s vision of a “Jesus Movement,” then the Church, from its smallest congregation to its largest cardinal parish, will need to include the instrumental repertoire, hymns, psalms, canticles, mass settings, and anthems of the African Diaspora.


Composer, arranger, conductor, keyboardist, singer, author, lecturer and teacher Carl MaultsBy has successfully juggled a career between the professional music performance world (sacred and secular) as well as academia. He received the Doctor of Fine Arts (honoris causa) and the Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music and Mathematics from Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL, and the Masters of Music degree in Jazz/Commercial Composition from Manhattan School of Music. From 2013 to the present, MaultsBy has served as the Director of Music/Organist, St. Richard’s Episcopal Church, Winter Park, FL. Prior to spearheading the music ministry at St. Richard’s, he has served as Director of Music, St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, Orlando, FL; Director of Music Ministries, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Washington, DC; Director of Music, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, NY; First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica (NY); St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, NY; Assistant Organist, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, New York, NY; and Director of the Abyssinian Baptist Church Chancel Choir, New York, NY. MaultsBy studied organ with Michael Corzine (Florida State University), Steven Emprin, and Edna Sampson Hargrett-Thrower. MaultsBy is the recipient of a 2001 Harvard University Fromm Music Foundation commission (“Eye of the Sparrow”) and New York State Council on the Arts commissions for the woodwind quintets “Kum-Ba-Ya, Marchus” (2010) and “The Journey” (2003) of which both were premiered by Quintet of the Americas. In addition, he is the 2003-2004 Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Florida A&M University, the 2000-2001 guest director of the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir and the 1987-1990 conductor of the City College of New York Gospel Choir. Learn more about Carl MaultsBy.


[1] Book of Common Prayer, p. 335.

[2] BCP, p. 333.

[3] Ibid., p. 400.

[4] “Music of the African Diaspora” refers to vernacular folk songs as well as compositions written by persons of Black African ancestry.

[5] This list is updated from the article “A Checklist of African-American Church Music Resources” by Carl MaultsBy found in The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians, Volume 26, Number 2, February 2017, pp. 13-14.

[6] John Harper, The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), p. .

[7] The Ordinary of the mass are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Doxology, Great Amen, Lord’s Prayer, Fraction Anthem.

[8] The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians, 2017.

[9] In many parishes, the choir doesn’t sing year round. The choir season often ranges from the Sunday after Labor Day through Trinity Sunday. The parish that has the luxury of more than one choir or performing group will stagger the choir season such that there is always a Sunday performing ensemble throughout the entire Church year.