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.
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"(Special Section, Hymns Beyond the Congregation II): Whither Christian Soldiers? Metaphor and Momentum in the MidTwentieth-Century Reception of a Victorian Hymn,"
Yale Journal of Music & Religion:
1, Article 7.