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Religions 2016, 7(8), 108;

Performing, Representing, and Archiving Belief: Religious Expressions among Jazz Musicians

Department of Religion, Princeton University, 1879 Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
Academic Editors: Douglas James Davies and Michael J. Thate
Received: 30 March 2016 / Revised: 10 August 2016 / Accepted: 12 August 2016 / Published: 19 August 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the Individual: Belief, Practice, and Identity)
Full-Text   |   PDF [227 KB, uploaded 19 August 2016]


The archives of African American jazz musicians demonstrate rich sites for studying expressions of religious belief and daily religious practice in public and private arenas, in professional and personal capacities. Highlighting print material from the archives of Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899–1974) and Mary Lou Williams (1910–1981), this article examines the ways that these musicians worked to articulate their beliefs in print and to make meaning of their routine practices. Ellington and Williams produced written records of their aspirations for non-clerical religious authority and leadership, novel notions of religious community, and conceptions of quotidian writing tasks as practices with devotional value in the middle decades of the twentieth century. In preparation for his Sacred Concert tours of American and Western European religious congregations, Ellington theologized about the nature of God and the proper language to address God through private hotel stationery. Following her conversion to Roman Catholicism, Williams managed a Harlem thrift shop and worked to create the Bel Canto Foundation for musicians struggling with substance abuse and unemployment. This study of the religious subjectivity of African Americans with status as race representatives employs archival historical methods in the effort to vividly approximate complex religious interiority. View Full-Text
Keywords: African American religious history; Religion in America; jazz; Duke Ellington; Mary Lou Williams African American religious history; Religion in America; jazz; Duke Ellington; Mary Lou Williams
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Booker, V.A. Performing, Representing, and Archiving Belief: Religious Expressions among Jazz Musicians. Religions 2016, 7, 108.

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