The Ring and the Shout
For this Hip Deep episode, producer Ned Sublette went to church—specifically, the True Light Church in Winnsboro, Louisiana. There he documented the music of something once thought to have died out—a for-real ring shout, the oldest known form of African-American music. In the delta of Louisiana and the much larger Mississippi Delta, they called them Rocks, and these Rocks were all over the place. Now, only this one is left.
Scholars have authenticated only two presently existing ring shout groups with direct performative continuity to slavery days, though there may be more. But these two groups are 700 miles apart! The McIntosh County Shouters of Georgia, who now perform as an organized folkloric group, and whose traditional night is Watchnight, or New Year’s Eve; and the Easter Rock of Winnsboro, Louisiana, performed on the Saturday night before Easter. Despite their separation on the map, and though their rhythms are quite different, the two ring shouts have all kinds of features in common. And the use of the word rock in Winnsboro is not a coincidence: the Easter Rock rocks.
Of particular interest in the case of the Easter Rock is their church, a tiny, endangered, old-school plantation church with a fine wood floor that doubles as a drum when the Rockers are in charge. “Musicians used to spend thousands of dollars in the studio trying to get their drums to sound like that,” says Sublette.
In The Ring and the Shout, we hear Ned Sublette’s original multitrack recordings of Easter Rock 2016, made for Afropop Worldwide Hip Deep. We talk to Dr. Joyce Jackson, an interdisciplinary ethnomusicologist at L.S.U. who has been working with the congregation for over 20 years. And we go to Athens, Georgia, to talk about the ring shout with Art Rosenbaum, producer and coproducer respectively of the first two McIntosh County Shouters albums—recorded 32 years apart—and hear a sneak preview from the Shouters’ forthcoming album.
Both interviews were more wide-ranging than we could include in the program, but we’ve included the full transcripts of both here.
Roach, Susan. Easter Rock: A Description.