Cover: How Sweet the Sound in HARDCOVER

How Sweet the Sound

Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans

Product Details


$40.00 • £34.95 • €36.95

ISBN 9780674012905

Publication Date: 04/30/2004


352 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

15 halftones


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Mr. Stowe’s observations regarding the relationship between music and spirituality take him to the religious music of Indians, Shakers, Mormons, Moravians, African-Americans, Jews, Buddhists and others… With abundant lyrics, photographs, and musical scores, How Sweet the Sound is a musical feast. Thump to it. Sing with it. Read this book.—Carol Herman, The Washington Times

This book describes the intimate connection between music and spirituality found in such groups as the Shakers and Mormons, and in individuals such as Yossele Rosenblatt, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Wynton Marsalis. Mr. Stowe narrates how the civil rights movement hastened the evolution of ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘We Shall Overcome’ into the secular spirituals and icons of today’s American religious culture.The Dallas Morning News

With historical anecdotes and deft musical analysis, Stowe…focuses on selected moments, from colonial times to the present, when sacred musical styles emerged, combined with others, or took on whole new colorings.—Jay Tolson, U.S. News & World Report

This book by David W. Stowe offers a wide-ranging treatment of the variety of religious music that has characterized the religious expression of generations of American believers, chronicling the evolution and popularity of this music in groups as diverse as the Shakers and American Buddhists… Stowe has greatly increased our knowledge of the important role that religious music played and continues to play in the lives of average Americans.—James R. Goff, Jr., Journal of American History

Stowe must be read and understood if we are to grasp something of the cultural context which shapes our singing—and how our singing shapes the culture around us, both within and without the church… I strongly recommend the reading of Stowe’s marvelously researched and delightfully written book.—Victor Gebauer, CrossAccent

How Sweet the Sound limns the harmonies of religion, hymns, and American culture through an amazing musical and historical panorama. Stowe’s stunning exploration of European, Indian, African, and Asian interchanges underscores music’s centrality to American spiritual expression and might well inspire readers to break into song themselves.—Jon Butler, author of Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776

David Stowe is a historian who understands the power of music to reach the human soul. Adding tools from ethnomusicology, anthropology, folklore studies, and hymnology to his own historiographical tool-kit, he offers convincing, humane, often eloquent accounts of the global give-and-take in which sacred song in America has for centuries been engaged.—Richard Crawford, author of America’s Musical Life: A History

Historians (at very long last) have awoken to the centrality of song in the formation, practices, transmission, and changes over time of modern religious movements. David Stowe’s major contribution to this awakening is notable for both its breadth and its depth. His treatments of Buddhists and Baptists, Jews and black Protestants, the main lines and the margins offer the best sort of sympathetic exposition with the most judicious of historical explanations. With Stephen Marini, Stowe has become the leader in opening up a subject whose importance cannot be exaggerated.—Mark A. Noll, author of America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln

Awards & Accolades

  • 2005 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, Concert Music Books Category, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
  • A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2005

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