CAMD Scholar Ashley Scott ’16 Explores Spirituals and Black Gospel Music

During the Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Scholar presentation by Ashley Scott ’16, “This Little Light of Mine” rang through Kemper Auditorium as audience members sang along, swaying to the voices of Andover’s Gospel Choir last Friday evening.

Entitled “Spirituals and the Inversion of the African-American Church,” Scott’s presentation explored the creation and function of spirituals and the influence of black gospel music on American popular culture in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Sponsored by the Office of Community and Multicultural Development, the CAMD Scholar program, established in 2006, allows selected students to pursue independent summer research projects related to diversity, multiculturalism, community or identity under the guidance of a faculty advisor.

Scott said in an interview with The Phillipian, “Growing up, I always went to church with my grandmother, my father’s mom, and she went to a Presbyterian church, which has a very strong musical tradition. So I grew up listening to [spirituals] and singing these songs in church. When I first applied to become a CAMD scholar, I really wanted to do something important to me.”

Scott’s presentation focused on how spirituals were used to uplift people, direct slaves in the Underground Railroad and communicate hidden messages between slaves. Four songs, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Wade in the Water,” “We Shall Overcome” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sung by a student gospel choir supplemented Scott’s presentation.

“I knew a lot of these [spirituals] before… I grew up listening to them and singing them. The most interesting part [about the research process] to me was finally understanding what they meant to all of the people around me. Because we would be singing a song – ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ – and so I would see the older people in the room crying. And I was like, ‘This is a nice song, why are we crying?’ And eventually, I learned what they meant,” said Scott.

Reverend Anne Gardner, Director of Spiritual & Religious Life and Protestant Chaplain, served as the faculty advisor for Scott’s CAMD Scholar project. The two worked closely together throughout the process of writing the paper and creating the presentation.

Gardner said, “Ashley is an exuberant student, delighted to dig into doing research, particularly if it required a historical lens. As a person of faith, this topic was both a personal and scholarly pursuit. This was my first time acting as a CAMD Scholar advisor. I am thrilled to have been part of this project with Ashley.”

Arzu Singh ’16, an attendee of the talk, felt the gospel singing in Scott’s presentation fostered a sense of community within the audience.

“There was definitely a community aspect she brought to [the presentation] by doing so. The whole audience started singing with her. There was definitely this feeling of camaraderie which I think embodies the concept she was talking about,” said Arzu.

Going into the presentation, Scott aimed to help audience members gain a new perspective on the topics of race and religion.

Scott said, “This [project] was something that I knew a lot about on the surface, but understood and learned so much when I went underneath the surface and past just what the songs meant on their face. I really hope that audience members got that and that I conveyed that well.”

“I also hope that they leave with a smile on their face, or are thinking hard about something that I brought up in my presentation, whether it’s about religion or race or whatever it may be,” Scott said.