There are few more explicit documents of the interconnection of hymnody, mobility, and coloniality than the 1939 film Stanley and Livingstone. Directed by the American duo of Henry King and Otto Brower, much of the picture was filmed “on location” in the British-controlled territories of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania). The film tells the real-life story of a New York journalist (Stanley) searching for a Scottish missionary (Livingstone) and eventually finding him in a town on the north-eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. One scene in particular—where Stanley finds Livingstone leading his hosts in a rendition of “Onward, Christian Soldiers”—has become a touchstone for writers addressing the Hollywood portrayal of Black African history. Building on this work, I lend a musicological ear to this imagined performance as well as two further, less remarked uses of the same hymn in Stanley and Livingstone (as the underscore for a map-crossing sequence and as a nostalgic motif for the discovery of the “lost” white man). To contextualise Stanley and Livingstone, the article sets out some of the broader history of “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” including debates about military metaphors in congregational hymn texts as well as the hymn’s appearance in four other mid-twentieth-century Anglophone films where it is used at moments of transition. The title of this article, then, is not a rhetorical question so much as a heuristic technique to foreground the forward motion apparent in any call to crusade, even when the destination is ill-defined. Rather than dismissing this hymn as only a monument to empire building, I suggest more critical focus should be given to its role in momentum building.

Author Biography

Jonathan Hicks is lecturer in music at the University of Aberdeen. Prior to joining Aberdeen, he held research fellowships at Lincoln College, Oxford, King’s College, London, and Newcastle University. His work is concerned with the criss-crossing of musical and urban histories in the long nineteenth century, especially in Victorian London. Via notions of landscape, place, and mobility, Jonathan addresses the material histories of music and musicians in the built environment. He co-edited The Melodramatic Moment: Musical and Theatrical Culture, 1790-1820 with Katherine Hambridge and his writing has appeared in Nineteenth-Century Music, Journal of Musicology, and Cambridge Opera Journal.

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