Contemporary gospel musicians frequently use ad libs that describe diasporic desires, imagined identities, and the music itself. “To the islands” and “to the motherland” are directives that call audiences to join musicians in a motivic journey that spans the Black Atlantic, and flows between North America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Though deployed throughout the genre’s history, I focus here on the motivic traveling featured in gospel music released within the past two decades. I posit that musicians engage in this symbolism for three possible reasons: to enliven gospel music, to appeal to increasingly diverse congregations both within the U.S. and abroad, and to participate in an ongoing musical conversation among members of the African Diaspora.

Author Biography

Lauren Eldridge Stewart is an Assistant Professor of Music at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research interests include the cultural uses of classical music, folklore, and material culture across the African diaspora. She is currently writing a book about the influence of global aid on the contemporary practice of classical music throughout Haiti. Additional work traces the practice of sampling across genres with roots in the African American experience, including hip hop and gospel music. She has published in the journals Women and Music, Music and Politics, and the Journal of Haitian Studies.

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