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Singing for Freedom: The Hutchinson Family Singers and the Nineteenth-Century Culture of Reform 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300111989
ISBN-10: 0300111983
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Frequently Bought Together

  • Singing for Freedom: The Hutchinson Family Singers and the Nineteenth-Century Culture of Reform
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  • Excelsior: Journals of the Hutchinson Family Singers, 1842-1846 (Sociology of Music Series)
Total price: $140.00
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Gac’s book is a rare work of cultural history that is a joy to read and that sheds enormous light on the era, suggesting the texture and feel of the time.”—John Stauffer, Harvard University
 
 
(John Stauffer)

"Scott Gac is a splendid narrative craftsman, schooled in history and musicology. His 'Singing for Freedom' is a unique and compelling book—the first work to carefully uncover the busy, fascinating intersection of music, popular culture, commerce, celebrity, and abolitionism. Behold: a time long before Bob Dylan when lyrics really mattered, and singing abolitionists were rock stars with political clout."—David W. Blight, Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, Yale University

(David W. Blight)

“In Singing for Freedom Scott Gac offers readers a remarkable look at the music of America's first great age of reform. The Hutchinson Family Singers gave voice to the popular movement for radical change not unlike the anti-war and pro-Civil Rights musicians of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. But in Gac's artful hands, the family's history reveals much more, showing us the nexus between religion and reform, individualism and the search for community, and the entrepreneurial spirit and moral impulse that defined the era. No one hoping to understand the culture of the 19th century can afford to overlook this book.”—Carol Berkin, author of Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence
(Carol Berkin)

“The Hutchinson Family Singers were the era’s best-known musicians, admired by the powerful and powerless alike.  Singing for Freedom illumines beautifully these extraordinary lives, etching sharply the highlights and the shadows.”—Dale Cockrell, author of Excelsior: Journals of the Hutchinson Family Singers, 1842-1846
(Dale Cockrell)

About the Author

Scott Gac is visiting professor of American studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and an accomplished double bass player.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (June 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300111983
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300111989
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Michael Albert on February 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book in response to a review in our local arts paper, THE WiRE. I am a musician, a choral musician. I have composed for and conducted volunteer choruses. My last major gig was the Gay Men's Chorus of Houston, with which I was associated for fifteen years. Oh, and I was in my teens in the '60s. Needless to say, I'm very familiar with protest and inspirational songs--what they need to do, how to make them do it, and how to sell them to an audience. Add to that the fact that my college mentor once told me that she had members of a family of abolitionist singers in New Hampshire name Hutchinson. But what finally kicked me in the can and made me read it was the PBS series called The Abolitionists. Presenting the history of the abolitionist movement in the context of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, I thought the PBS docudrama was engrossing--but way too simple.

Reading Singing for Freedom gave it extra heft, an extra dimension. It is especially interesting to see how the abolitionist movement, and the Hutchinson's performing career, grew directly from The Second Great Awakening. And the author has not hesitated to take some side roads, answering practical and historical questions as they were created in the course of the narrative (such as What is The Second Great Awakening?). I'm not really surprised that the family hitched its wagon to many popular issues: anti-smoking, temperance, women's rights and abolition among them. And I'm not surprised to know that they started in camaraderie and ended in bitter fraternal infighting, dragging their artistic career as an ensemble into a second decade, the decade immediately preceding the Civil War, simply because it was all they knew how to do (besides farming). But in their heyday, the were everywhere.
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Format: Hardcover
If you are old enough, you remember the protest songs of Peter, Paul, and Mary or Bob Dylan. Older still, you remember those of Woody Guthrie. But no one remembers the performances of the Hutchinson Family Singers, although according to Scott Gac, a professor of American studies and a musician, they seem to be the grandparents of American protest songs. No one remembers their performances, and we have no recordings of them, because they gained their fame before the Civil War by singing about temperance and especially about the abolition of slavery. In _Singing for Freedom: The Hutchinson Family Singers and the Nineteenth-Century Culture of Antebellum Reform_ (Yale University Press), Gac has given the history of the group (which shares many characteristics with modern singing groups) within its times and especially within the complicated realm of reform movements before the war. Slavery was abolished (of course it took a war and not just singers to make it happen), and it seems as if it were inevitable from our viewpoint, but the different forces for abolition didn't always agree or unite, and for all their righteousness (and rightness), abolitionists in general and the Hutchinsons in particular were merely human. This is a fine story of a wrongly-forgotten bit of Americana.

The Hutchinsons as they performed in their most popular days were three brothers and a sister, John, Asa, Judson, and Abby. They were from a farming family in Milford, New Hampshire, and absorbed the Baptist music of their upbringing. They often used such tunes, and popular tunes of the time, changing the lyrics to fit a message. The Hutchinsons themselves had faith that the return of Jesus was imminent and would come in their days, as did many of their Baptist brethren of the time.
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Format: Hardcover
The Hutchinson Family Singers came from humble beginnings, but exploded into International stardom during the 1840's & 50's. They were very bold in their messages of racial equality, women's suffrage, and teetotaling. This book not only covers the background and career of the group, but also the anti-slavery movement and the acceptance of music being an acceptable form of entertainment in Christian circles. The idea of making money from composing and performing were in itself controversial at the time. There were no records or radio play back then, but the songs were still hits with sales of sheet music.

The book mostly covers the main singers of the group, John, Asa, Judson, and Abby. Their rise to fame, travels, and legacy are included here. John Hutchinson was the only brother to live into the early 1900's, and continued to perform late in life. The book also briefly covers some other groups that were popular at the time, including African-American bugle player Frank Johnson.

Overall it was pretty interesting and well researched, although I wish the photo with the 10 brothers together would have given names to go with the faces for those who don't have the older books written about them. There are at least six other books relating the Hutchinson family, but they were written long ago and can be hard to find or very expensive. If you are collecting those books, this one should be part of your collection as well. If you are interested in American history that you missed out on in High School or College, this is a great read.
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