"Lift Every Voice and Swing": New book by Vaughn Booker

In his new book, Lift Every Voice and Swing: Black Musicians and Religious Culture in the Jazz Century (NYU Pr., forthcoming July 2020), Assistant Professor of Religion and African and African American Studies Vaughn A. Booker '07 explores the role of jazz celebrities like Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Mary Lou Williams as representatives of African American religion in the 20th century. Beginning in the 1920s, the Jazz Age propelled Black swing artists into national celebrity. Many took on the role of race representatives, and were able to leverage their popularity toward achieving social progress for other African Americans. Professor Booker argues that these popular Black jazz profesionals inherited religious authority though they were not official religious leaders. Some of them put forward a religious culture by releasing religious recordings and putting on religious concerts, and their work came to be seen as integral to the Black religious ethos. This was a transformative era in religious expression, in which jazz musicians embodied religious beliefs and practices that echoed and diverged from the predominant African American religious culture. "Convincingly overturning notions of the innate secularity of jazz," Wallace Best (Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton) observes, "Booker has provoked a powerful rethinking of African American religious history and the means by which we tell that history."