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“The Secret at the Root”: Performing African American Religious Modernity in Hall Johnson's Run, Little Chillun

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2018


Francis Hall Johnson's (1888–1970) work to preserve and promote Negro spirituals places him among the twentieth century's most influential interpreters of African American religious music. Johnson was most closely associated with Marc Connelly's 1930 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Green Pastures, for which he served as musical arranger and choral conductor. His participation in this production, which became a lightning rod for discussions about the nature of black religious thought, made him sharply aware of the complex terrain of popular culture representations of African American religious life for the consumption of white audiences. This article examines Johnson's 1933 “music-drama,” Run, Little Chillun, through which he hoped to counter the commonly deployed tropes of African Americans as a simple, naturally religious people. Moderately successful on Broadway, the production did particularly well when revived in California in 1938 and 1939 as part of the Federal Theatre and Federal Music projects.

Most critics found Johnson's presentation of black Baptist music and worship to be thrillingly authentic but were confused by the theology of the drama's other religious community, the Pilgrims of the New Day. Examining Johnson's Pilgrims of the New Day in light of his interest in Christian Science and New Thought reveals a broader objective than providing a dramatic foil for the Baptists and a platform for endorsing Christianity. With his commitment to and expertise with vernacular forms of African American religious culture unassailable, Johnson presented a critique of the conservative tendencies and restrictive parochialism of some black church members and leaders and insisted on the ability of the individual religious self to range freely across a variety of spiritual possibilities. In doing so, he presented “the secret at the root” of black culture as not only revealing the spiritual genius of people of African descent but also as offering eternal and universal truths not bound by race.

Research Article
Copyright © Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture 2011

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I am grateful to Rachel Miller and Eugene Thamon Simpson for invaluable research assistance, to the participants in the American Religious History Workshop at Princeton for their lively and encouraging engagement of my work, and to Judith Casselberry, Lisa Gail Collins, and Timea Széll for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

1. Johnson, Hall, “Porgy and Bess—A Folk Opera—A Review,” Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life 14 (January 1936): 28 Google Scholar.

2. I use the term “Negro spiritual” to refer to early twentiethcentury interpretations of the religious music that emerged among African Americans in slavery.

3. Simpson, Eugene Thamon, Hall Johnson: His Life, His Spirit, and His Music (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 107 Google Scholar. Films in which the Hall Johnson Choir appeared or to which they contributed music include the shorts St. Louis Blues (Gramercy Studios, 1929) and Little Sinner (Hal Roach Studio, 1935), the cartoon Clean Pastures (Warner Bros., 1937), and the feature length films Wonder Bar (First National, 1934), The Green Pastures (Warner Bros., 1936), Lost Horizon (Columbia, 1937), Jezebel (Warner Bros., 1938), Meet John Doe (Warner Bros., 1941), Tales of Manhattan (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1942), Cabin in the Sky (MGM, 1943), and Song of the South (Walt Disney, 1946).

4. Simpson writes, “From this total number, Johnson established several groups: a concert choir of 16 voices, a Green Pastures choir of 30 voices, and a reserve choir of 84 voices. There were also several chambersized units: the Swanee Six, the Whispering Trio, and the Over Jordan Sextet.” Simpson, Hall Johnson, 11.

5. In addition to individual sheets, Johnson published two major collections: The Green Pastures Spirituals (New York: Farrar and Reinhart, 1930) and Thirty Negro Spirituals (New York: G. Schirmer, 1949).

6. On William D. Johnson, see Talbert, Horace, Sons of Allen: Together with a Sketch of the Rise and Progress of Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, Ohio (Xenia, Ohio: Aldine Press, 1906), 244–45Google Scholar; AME Handbook, 1909, compiled by B. F. Lee (Nashville: AME Sunday School Union, 1909), 22-23; Wright, Richard R., Centennial Encyclopaedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Philadelphia: Book Concern of the AME Church, 1916), 137 Google Scholar; and Ferris, William H., The African Abroad or His History in Western Civilization, Tracing His Development Under Caucasian Milieu (New Haven: The Tuttle, Morehouse, and Taylor Press, 1913), 778 Google Scholar.

7. On Johnson's father's contribution to his musical training, see Lovell, John Jr., Black Song: The Forge and the Flame; The Story of How the Afro- American Spiritual Was Hammered Out (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 448 Google Scholar.

8. Boris, Joseph J., ed., Who's Who in Colored America, 1928–1929 (New York: Who's Who in Colored America Corp., 1929), 211 Google Scholar.

9. Johnson, Hall, “Some Aspects of the Negro Folk Song,” n.d., in Simpson, Hall Johnson, 232.Google Scholar

10. Ibid.

11. Productions in this period include Nan Bagby Stephens, Roseanne (1923), Em Jo Basshe, Earth (1927), Marc Connelly, The Green Pastures (1930), Ethel Barrymore's adaptation of Julia Peterkin's novel Scarlet Sister Mary (1930), and George and Ira Gershwin's folk opera Porgy and Bess (1935), for which Dorothy and DuBose Heyward wrote the libretto and Ira Gershwin the lyrics.

12. Summers, Martin, Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 205 Google Scholar.

13. Dinerstein, Joel, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), 106 Google Scholar.

14. The play's Broadway premiere was at the Lyric Theatre, and a 1943 revival, which ran for only sixteen performances, was mounted at the Hudson Theatre in New York. The FTP productions were staged at the Mayan Theatre and then the Hollywood Playhouse in Los Angeles, at the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco, and at the Savoy Theatre in San Diego. See Peterson, Bernard L. Jr., A Century of Musicals in Black and White: An Encyclopedia of Musical Stage Works By, About, or Involving African Americans (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993), 297–98Google Scholar, and “The Playgoer: The Magazine in the Theatre,” Official Publication of the Mayan Theatre, n.d., 14. Federal Theatre Project Collection, 1935–1939, Box 2, Folder 2, Princeton University Library Manuscripts Division. The World's Fair (Golden Gate International Exposition) performances were held in the FTP theater on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.

15. Connelly's play was inspired by white writer Roark Bradford's 1928 collection of stories, Ol Man Adam and His Chillun: Being the Tales They Tell about the Time When the Lord Walked the Earth Like a Natural Man (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1928).

16. Marc Connelly and William Keighley directed the 1936 film version. Radio versions were broadcast on NBC's “Cavalcade of America” in 1940 and 1941 and “Ford Theater” in 1948. The play was revived on Broadway in 1951 and broadcast on the Hallmark Hall of Fame television program in 1957 and 1959. Over the years, numerous amateur productions in the United States and abroad interpreted the play, which also contributed to its ubiquity as a popular culture representation of black religious thought.

17. Admittedly, Connelly's “Author's Note” in the published version of the play as well as materials included in the playbill for various productions do not make the claim that all African American Christians understand the Bible in this way. In situating the play's religious sensibility among “thousands of Negroes in the deep South,” Connelly does, however, make a broad claim for the theology contained therein. Moreover, much in his public discourse about the play and material in the production itself supported the conclusion that his work was aimed at encapsulating a singular and, to him, authentic black theology. See, for example, Connelly, Marc, The Green Pastures: A Fable (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1929), xv Google Scholar.

18. New York World, February 27, 1930.

19. On the critical and popular reception of the play and film among blacks and whites, see Judith Weisenfeld, Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion in American Film, 1929–1949 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), chap. 2, and, on responses of black intellectuals to the play, see Evans, Curtis J., “The Religious and Racial Meanings of The Green Pastures ,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 18, no. 1 (Winter 2008): 5993 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20. See, for example, the preface to Benjamin E. Mays, The Negro's God as Reflected in His Literature, where Mays writes, “It has been taken for granted that the Negro is over-emotional and super-religious… . It has been assumed by many people that the ideas of God expressed in Green Pastures are wholly representative of what the Negro thinks of God. Although the author did not set out in this study to disprove anything presented in Green Pastures, the data themselves show that the Negro's idea of God is not now and has never been what Green Pastures may lead some people to believe.” Mays, Benjamin E., The Negro's God as Reflected in His Literature (New York: Russell & Russell, 1968)Google Scholar, n.p.

21. Pittsburgh Courier, October 4, 1930.

22. Hall Johnson to Al Lewis, July 24, 1942. Cabin in the Sky, Arthur Freed Collection, University of Southern California.

23. See Bosley Crowther's review of Tales of Manhattan in the New York Times, October 4, 1942.

24. See, for example, Los Angeles Times music critic Isabel Morse Jones's review in which she credits Johnson for producing “something very much like a native opera” through his skillful scoring. Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1932.

25. Chicago Defender, January 31, 1931.

26. Johnson founded the group as the Harlem Jubilee Singers in 1926 and renamed it the Hall Johnson Negro Choir shortly thereafter, although they also appeared under the name “The Carolina Serenaders” at least once (see Chicago Defender, October 29, 1927). According to one account, the name Harlem Jubilee Singers had been suggested to Johnson by white writer Carl Van Vechten. Verna Arvey, “Hall Johnson and His Choir,” Opportunity 19 (May 1941): 159. The famed Fisk Jubilee Singers, founded in 1867, solidified the concept of the African American “jubilee” choir and located spirituals at the core of such choirs’ repertoires. Although Johnson apparently used the term jubilee for his choir for only a brief time, his inclusion of Harlem in the name creates a striking juxtaposition with the images of other jubilee choirs at the time, which generally pointed to southern roots. The Dixie Jubilee Singers, perhaps Johnson's most direct competition in New York in the late 1920s, serves as a good example of a group that deployed the term “jubilee” to evoke southernness. The group had come to the city from Baltimore and, under the direction of Eva Jessye, had considerable concert and radio success and went to Hollywood in 1929 to appear in King Vidor's film Hallelujah (MGM, 1929). Jessye transformed the Dixie Jubilee Singers into the Eva Jessye Choir around 1930. See Weisenfeld, Judith, “Truths that Liberate the Soul: Eva Jessye and the Politics of Religious Performance,” in Women and Religion in the African Diaspora: Knowledge, Power, and Performance,ed. Marie Griffith, R. and Savage, Barbara Dianne (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 222–44Google Scholar.

27. In addition to songs by Blake and Sissle, the 1921 Broadway production of Shuffle Along featured a book by the African American comedy team Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles. It ran for more than a year and popularized a number of songs, including “I’m Just Wild about Harry.”

28. Chicago Defender, December 5, 1925.

29. Ibid., March 19, 1927.

30. Ibid., May 14, 1927. The judges for the music prize were William Grant Still, Olga Samaroff, and Daniel Gregory Mason. Johnson had won third prize for composition the previous year in a competition judged by Frank Damrosch, R. Nathaniel Dett, and David Mannes. See New York Amsterdam News, May 5, 1926.

31. New York Amsterdam News, July 3, 1929.

32. Chicago Defender, August 3, 1929.

33. Em Jo (Emanuel Jochelman) Basshe's Earth starred Daniel L. Haynes, who would appear in the stage productions of The Green Pastures as Adam and Hezdrel. Although Haynes and Johnson generally received positive reviews, the play was panned and ran for only twentyfour performances.

34. New York Times, March 5, 1933; Glinsky, Albert, Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 157 Google Scholar. Rockmore was married to Clara (Riesenberg) Rockmore, who gained international fame as a virtuoso performer on the theremin, an early electronic instrument.

35. Membership in Johnson's choir reached as many as 175 in some productions. The Baltimore Afro-American noted that the cast of Run, Little Chillun came from the large choir that Johnson had put together for a performance on Lincoln's birthday, comprised of singers who did not have other work during the Depression. Juanita Hall, one of Johnson's assistant choir directors, oversaw the choir at his New York Studio while he was on tour and made sure that the choir's members were fed at least once daily. The article concluded, “There were occasional special feasts to keep up their morale in the days when there were no definite plans for a production. Juanita Hall was the guiding spirit among them all, and is still the unseen commander, god-mother, sister, confidant and advisor of this group.” Baltimore Afro-American, April 8, 1933.

36. Johnson, Hall, Run, Little Chillun, in Lost Plays of the Harlem Renaissance, 1920–1940, ed. Hatch, James V. and Hamalian, Leo (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1966), 235 Google Scholar.

37. Ibid., 273. Johnson recorded this song with his choir on RCA Records in 1939 with “I Can't Stay Here By Myself” on the other side. In her review in the San Francisco Examiner, Ada Hanafin wrote, “In this music drama, the music reigns supreme” and noted that the title song received “an explosive response from the audience, who demanded that it be repeated.” San Francisco Examiner, January 14, 1939, quoted in Simpson, , Hall Johnson, 186–87Google Scholar.

38. Throckmorton worked with Eugene O’Neill on many productions, including Emperor Jones, on a number of black-cast plays, and many other Broadway productions. Photographs of the sets for Run, Little Chillun are preserved in the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library.

39. Alston Burleigh, the son of famed baritone, composer, and arranger of Negro spirituals Harry T. Burleigh, played Jim in the original Broadway production. Harry was the baritone soloist at St. George's Episcopal Church in New York City for more than fifty years and also served as the soloist at Temple Emmanu-El for twenty-five years. See Simpson, Anne Key, Hard Trials: The Life and Music of Harry T. Burleigh (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1990)Google Scholar. Alston, also a composer, appeared in a number of Broadway productions in the late 1920s and early 1930s, had a concert career, and was on the faculty at the Virginia State College for Negroes.

40. Veteran stage actress Edna Thomas played Ella in the Broadway production. Sulamai was played by Fredi Washington, an established Broadway actress by that time who would achieve Hollywood fame with her work with Paul Robeson in The Emperor Jones (United Artists, 1933) and Imitation of Life (Universal, 1934). Washington's appearance in the play received an added measure of attention in the black press because her sister Isabelle, a nightclub entertainer, had recently married Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the son of prominent Baptist minister Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., the pastor of New York's Abyssinian Baptist Church. The marriage of this scion of black Baptist aristocracy generated considerable scandal in black church circles. Some of the coverage interpreted Johnson's story of Sulamai's rejection by the Baptist congregation as mirroring the love story of Washington and Powell. See Baltimore Afro- American, March 11, 1933. On Washington's career, see Laurie Avant Woodward, “Performing Artists of the Harlem Renaissance: Resistance, Identity, and Meaning in the Life and Work of Fredi Washington, 1920– 1960” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2007).

41. Johnson, Run, Little Chillun, 242.

42. Ibid., 243.

43. Ibid., 249.

44. Ibid., 250.

45. Lewis Nichols, “Negro Spirituals,” New York Times, March 2, 1933. John Houseman took the production to be “less a play than a choral and declamatory tour de force.” Houseman, John, Run-through: A Memoir (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 186 Google Scholar.

46. In fact, by the time Merlin was hired as the play's director, the company had already been in rehearsal for five months, and he interpreted his job as trying to limit the improvisational additions the group had grown accustomed to making during rehearsals. In one interview, Merlin argued that this practice of adding materials to a text was a unique characteristic of Negro actors. Daily Mirror, March 12, 1933, in Fredi Washington Papers. Four years after the Broadway production of Run, Little Chillun ended, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., published a scathing denunciation of Merlin, who was then the head of the FTP's “Negro vaudeville unit.” Powell related the story of a one-day strike called by black performers to protest WPA layoffs to which Merlin responded by dismantling the unit. Powell, who had been friends with Merlin, denounced him as “a Negro hater” and chided the WPA leadership for sacrificing African Americans to save themselves. Powell concluded, “Poverty makes of all men kin. The day must come when ‘not some of my best friends are Negroes or Jews or whites but all of my real friends are people of the earth.’” Adam C. Powell, Jr., “Soap Box,” New York Amsterdam News, October 23, 1937. African American director and actor Clarence Muse has been credited with adding humor to the production, which some reviewers saw as contributing to its popularity in the West Coast FTP revival. Nevertheless, Johnson received the overwhelming measure of attention.

47. Chappy Gardner, “Hall Johnson Docks Choir Duties; Sails into Dramas,” Chicago Defender, March 18, 1933.

48. Henry Beckett, “‘Run, Little Chillun!’ by Hall Johnson, Produced at the Lyric,” New York Evening Post, March 2, 1933, in Fredi Washington Papers. Unlike most other reviewers of this production, Beckett applauded Johnson's skills as a playwright, evaluating it as “a play with real plot development, with some splendid lines, and with subtle philosophy.”

49. New York Amsterdam News, March 8, 1933. The song “Run, Little Chillun” was not a traditional spiritual but was written by Johnson for the production.

50. Olin Downes, “Final Scene of Hall Johnson's Negro ‘Folk- Play’ Indicates One Direction for Developing Native Genre,” New York Times, April 2, 1933, X5. Recent scholars have also characterized Run, Little Chillun as an opera. See Kirk, Elise R., American Opera (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 196 Google Scholar.

51. Chicago Defender, December 20, 1933, 19. It was, perhaps, the combination of this sense of realism and the fact that a production by a black artist had made it to Broadway and was receiving a great deal of attention that led to the production's usefulness as a fundraiser for political causes, including for the NAACP, the Scottsboro defense, and local New York aid societies. Baltimore Afro-American, February 25, 1933. The NAACP sold 205 tickets to the benefit performance of Run, Little Chillun, for which it received 25 percent of the price of each or a total of just over $75. See Sondra Kathryn Wilson, ed., In Search of Democracy: The NAACP Writings of James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and Roy Wilkins, 1920–1977 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 155. On the Scottsboro defense benefit, see Chicago Defender, March 25, 1933; Baltimore Afro-American, May 6, 1933; and, on a Brooklyn fundraiser, see New York Times, April 25, 1933.

52. Quoted in Arthur Ruhl's review of Run, Little Chillun, New York Herald, March 2, 1933, in Fredi Washington Papers. At the core of Johnson's interests in music and performance lay the dual claim that black religious music constituted a central element of the folk songs of the United States and that Negro spirituals were the unique product of the experiences of African Americans in slavery. In this regard, Johnson was in accord with the assessments of many other scholars and performers of spirituals in arguing for the influence of African musical forms and the cultural encounter in slavery on the development of Negro spirituals, making them deeply American and yet profoundly distinctive. He was committed to preserving this music as it had been sung in its period of “fullest flowing in the early years of the Emancipation when the ex-slaves gathered in great numbers to sing in their own churches—without let or hindrance.” Johnson, Hall, “Notes on the Negro Spiritual,” in Readings in Black American Music, ed. Southern, Eileen (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), 273 Google Scholar.

53. Johnson, , Run, Little Chillun, 251 Google Scholar. Indeed, the intimation of voodoo led one reporter to compare the material presented in the scene to William Seabrook's description of Haitian Vodou in his controversial book The Magic Island. See “’Run, Little Chillun’ Has Dancing as Well as Song,” Chicago Defender, May 20, 1933, in which the article's author contends that Seabrook gave a copy of his book to playwright Marjorie Barkentin who then gave it to Johnson.

54. Johnson, , Run, Little Chillun, 251 Google Scholar.

55. Among the dancers were Bruce Nugent and Ollie (Olga) Burgoyne.

56. Chappy Gardner, “’Run, Little Chillun’ Decides Not to Close,” Chicago Defender, June 17, 1933, 5.

57. John Martin, “The Dance: A Negro Play,” New York Times, March 12, 1933, X7.

58. Hurston described the fire dance as “exceedingly African” and serving social functions. In the dance,

The players form a ring, with the bonfire to one side. The drummer usually takes his place near the fire. The drum is held over the blaze until the skin tightens to the right tone. There is a flourish signifying that the drummer is all set. The players begin to clap with their hands. The drummer cries, “Gimbay!” [a corruption of the African word gumbay, a large drum] and begins the song. He does not always select the song. The players more often call out what they want played. One player is inside the ring. He or she does his preliminary flourish, which comes on the first line of the song, does his dance on the second line, and chooses his successor on the third line and takes his place in the circle. The chosen dancer takes his place and the dance goes on until the drum gets cold. What they really mean by that is, that the skin of the head has relaxed until it is no longer in tune. The drummer goes to the fire and tunes it again. This always changes the song.

Hurston, Zora Neale, “Dance Songs and Tales from the Bahamas,” Journal of American Folklore 43, no. 169 (July–September 1930): 294 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59. Hurston later wrote that the two had attempted to collaborate but that Johnson failed to appear at scheduled rehearsals. She also claimed that Johnson's singers were culturally insensitive to the Bahamian dancers who worked with her. See Kraut, Anthea, Choreographing the Folk: The Dance Stagings of Zora Neale Hurston (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 9598 Google Scholar, and Boyd, Valerie, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (New York: Scribner, 2003), 227–31Google Scholar, on the brief collaboration between Hurston and Johnson.

60. New York Times, January 11, 1932; New York Amsterdam News, January 13, 1932; Chicago Defender, January 16, 1932.

61. Hurston, Zora Neale, Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography, 2d ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 194 Google Scholar.

62. Kraut, Anthea, “Everybody's Fire Dance: Zora Neale Hurston and American Dance History,” Scholar and the Feminist Online 3, no. 2 (Winter 2005): 2, Scholar

63. Hurston had difficult working relationships with other artists in addition to Hall Johnson. In 1930, she collaborated with Langston Hughes on the play Mule Bone, which was never produced in their lifetimes because of a dispute over ownership of the work stemming from Hurston's registration of a copyright in her name alone. See Boyd, , Wrapped in Rainbows, 198217 Google Scholar, and Rampersad, Arnold, The Life of Langston Hughes, vol. 1, 1902–1941: I, Too, Sing America, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), esp. 194–98Google Scholar.

64. The costumes for the Broadway production were designed by white costumer Helen Pons, who had a long and distinguished career designing for the theater, ballet, and opera. See New York Times, April 20, 1990. 65. New Yorker, May 27, 1933, 4.

66. Carl Cramer, “Run, Little Chillun: A Critical Review,” Opportunity 11 (April 1933): 113.

67. John Hobart, “‘Run, Little Chillun’ Proves to Be Rousing Theater, Bounces Audiences Out of Seats,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 14, 1939, in Run, Little Chillun scrapbook, Hall Johnson Collection, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.

68. A notable exception, although not by a professional critic, nor published at the time, was the response of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, who saw the original Broadway production in May of 1933 and noted in his journal the striking narrative similarity to I. J. Singer's play, Yoshe Kalb, “a Hassidic folk drama” which had been produced in New York the previous fall. Kaplan wrote that “both dramas exhibit the human soul being tortured by a sense of sin, in both it is illicit love which gives rise to the sense of sin, in both the heroine meets with tragic death and the hero finds redemption.” Kaplan attributed the likeness of Run, Little Chillun's story to that of Yoshe Kalb to “the fact that Jews and Negroes resemble each other to so large a degree in their sufferings, in their yearnings and in the primitive force and character of their religiousness when untouched by the skeptical spirit of Western Civilization.” Scult, Mel, ed., Communings of the Spirit: The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan, vol. 1, 1913–1934 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001), 501 Google Scholar. On Yoshe Kalb's opening, see New York Times, October 3, 1932. Novelist Meyer Levin also saw the religious cultures presented in Run, Little Chillun as having much in common with Hasidic traditions. See Diner, Hasia R., “Between Words and Deeds: Jews and Blacks in America, 1880–1935,” in Struggles in the Promised Land: Toward a History of Black-Jewish Relations in the United States, ed. Salzman, Jack M. and West, Cornel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 8990 Google Scholar. In addition to Kaplan, at least one other rabbi in New York City found Run, Little Chillun worthy of religious reflection. The play was the subject of a sermon by Reform Rabbi Louis I. Newman of Temple Rodeph Shalom titled “Black and White Religion with Reference to ‘Run Little Chillun.’” New York Times, April 23, 1933.

69. See, for example, Kraut, Choreographing the Folk, and Fraden, Rena, Blueprints for a Black Federal Theatre, 1935–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)Google Scholar.

70. Carter, Marva Griffin, “The ‘New Negro’ Choral Legacy of Hall Johnson,” in Chorus and Community, ed. Ahlquist, Karen (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 197 Google Scholar.

71. Murphy, Brenda, “Plays and Playwrights: 1915 to 1945,” in The Cambridge History of American Theatre, vol. 2, ed. Wilmeth, Don B. and Bigsby, Christopher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 310 Google Scholar.

72. It should be noted that I am working from the published version of a typescript at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture that had belonged to Juanita Hall, one of Johnson's assistant conductors. Johnson's play was never published in his lifetime. 73. Unfortunately, no complete score of the music Johnson wrote for the production survives in his papers, and the Hall Johnson Choir made only a few recordings of music from the show, leaving a less than complete sense of the sound of the production. A number of Johnson's arrangements of spirituals for the show were published, as was the title song, “Run, Little Chillun.”

74. San Francisco Chronicle, January 15, 1939, in Run, Little Chillun scrapbook, Hall Johnson Collection. Father Divine was the spiritual head of a multiracial religious movement that contained aspects of New Thought positive thinking and Pentecostalism. Divine's followers regarded him as God come to humanity in the form of a black man in order to do away with racial categories and gender hierarchy. See, for example, Robert Weisbrot, Father Divine and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983), and Watts, Jill, God, Harlem U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992)Google Scholar.

75. Johnson, , Run, Little Chillun, 251 Google Scholar.

76. Simpson, , Hall Johnson, 189 Google Scholar.

77. Ibid., 188, 189.

78. Johnson, , Run, Little Chillun, 279 Google Scholar.

79. Simpson, , Hall Johnson, 189 Google Scholar.

80. Marsh Maslin, “This Is the Life,” San Francisco Call-Bulletin, March 16, 1939, in Run, Little Chillun scrapbook, Hall Johnson Collection.

81. Torrend, J., Specimens of Bantu Folk-Lore from Northern Rhodesia (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co., 1921), 3 Google Scholar. I am grateful to Kathryn Lofton for her generosity in securing Johnson's personal copy of this text for me.

82. Biographer Eugene Thamon Simpson notes that Johnson's sister, Alice Foster, wrote that “his interest in organized religion was confined to Scientology.” While this could have been the case later in his life, I am persuaded that she conflated Christian Science and Scientology. Simpson, , Hall Johnson, 58 Google Scholar.

83. Anderson's Appearances was the first full-length play by an African American author to be produced on Broadway. The play ran for a month in 1925, was performed on a national tour, and returned to Broadway in 1929 before moving to London. Anderson had difficulty finding support to produce other plays he had written and turned to different means to spread his teaching, including writing a religious treatise entitled Uncommon Sense: The Law of Life in Action (London: Fowler, 1933) and lecturing. Anderson, Garland, “A Black Man's Philosophy,” New York Evening Graphic, January 31, 1925 Google Scholar, L. S. Alexander Gumby Collection of Negroiana, Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Hill, Errol G. and Hatch, James V., A History of African American Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 234–36Google Scholar.

84. See Watts, Jill, Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 263-64Google Scholar. McDaniel listed her religion as “Truth Student” in the 1950 edition of Who's Who in Colored America, and Goodwin, Ruby Berkley gave hers as “Metaphysical-Christian.” James Fleming, G. and Burckel, Christian E., eds., Who's Who in Colored America (Yonkers-on-Hudson: Christian E. Burckel and Associates, 1950), 363, 217Google Scholar.

85. Fleming, and Burckel, , Who's Who in Colored America (1950), 37 Google Scholar; Downs, Karl E., Meet the Negro (Los Angeles: Login Press, 1943), 136–37Google Scholar.

86. The National Bible Press sold Bibles by subscription beginning in the years after the Civil War. See Gutjahr, Paul, An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777–1880 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999), 7778 Google Scholar. The copy in Johnson's collection bears a 1901 copyright and had become so worn that the archivist had it re-bound for research purposes. My use of Johnson's Bible is by permission of the Hall Johnson Collection, Rowan University.

87. Robertson, Nemi, “After This Manner Therefore Pray Ye,” Christian Science Journal 40, no. 3 (June 1922): 8588 Google Scholar.

88. Eddy, Mary Baker, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: First Church of Christ Scientist, 1994), 12 Google Scholar. Robertson studied with Mary Baker Eddy at Massachusetts Metaphysical College in 1887. See Eddy, , Science and Health, xi Google Scholar, and Bates, Ernest Sutherland and Dittemore, John Valentine, Mary Baker Eddy: The Truth and the Tradition (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1934)Google Scholar, app. 2.

89. Robertson, “After This Manner,” 87.

90. Ibid., 86.

91. Unfortunately, the Bible in Johnson's personal collection is not marked with his name. The fact that there is a small photograph of his mother pasted into it and that the few instances of textual marginalia match his handwriting persuades me that it belonged to him. Hall Johnson archivist and biographer Eugene Thamon Simpson is convinced that this Bible, the only one found in Johnson's apartment after his death, was his personal Bible. Eugene Thamon Simpson, e-mail to author, March 10, 2009. On readers’ markings of Bibles in earlier periods, see Sherman, William H., Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, chap. 4.

92. Simpson, , Hall Johnson, 6162 Google Scholar.

93. Ibid., 104, n. 81.

94. Ibid., 65, 69.

95. Ibid., 62–63.

96. See ibid., 72–79. Simpson believes that Johnson was the father of Wathea Sims Jones's son, Jan Hall Jones, who was born in 1943.

97. Eugene Thamon Simpson suggests an autobiographical concern in Run, Little Chillun and argues that “the struggle between the two religions [is] a metaphor for the struggle between the bad and the good in Hall Johnson.” Simpson, , Hall Johnson, 63 Google Scholar.

98. Eddy, Science and Health, 12.

99. “A Note on the Theology of the New Day Pilgrims,”Playgoer, Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles, n.d., 21.

100. See, for example, Richard Woolfenden, “Spiritual Therapeutics,” Christian Science Journal 30, no. 2 (May 1912): 79; Edward A. Meritt, “Spirit Against the Flesh,” Christian Science Journal 40, no. 9 (December 1922), 345; and Anne E. Herzog, “Loyalty,” Christian Science Journal 40, no. 3 (June 1922): 107.

101. The Nation of Islam is the most influential of the groups that emerged in this period and presented alternative cosmologies to the biblical narrative.

102. Johnson, , Run, Little Chillun, 252 Google Scholar.

103. Eddy, , Science and Health, 256 Google Scholar.

104. Simpson, , Hall Johnson, 188 Google Scholar. On reviewers’ descriptions of the ritual as orgiastic, see, for example, New York Times, March 2, 1933; New York Herald Tribune, March 2, 1933; Christian Science Monitor, March 6, 1933; Chicago Daily Tribune, October 14, 1934; Los Angeles Times, July 23, 1938; and New York Times, August 14, 1943. The fact that the dancers’ costumes were quite revealing contributed to this understanding of the ritual, as did choreographer Doris Humphrey's comments on the work. John O. Perpener III writes, “Humphrey described how a ritualistic mating dance had found its way from Africa to the Bahamas and the choreography of Run, Little Chillun’ by way of a group of Bahamian dancers who were members of the cast.” Perpener, John O. III, African-American Concert Dance: The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 7576 Google Scholar.

105. Johnson, “A Note on the Theology of the New Day Pilgrims,” 21.

106. Johnson, , Run, Little Chillun, 253 Google Scholar.

107. Ibid., 251.

108. Gardner, “Hall Johnson Docks Choir Duties”; Hobart, “Run, Little Chillun Proves to be Rousing Theater”; Ada Hanifin, “Run, Little Chillun Is a Musical Treat,” San Francisco Examiner, January 14, 1939, in Simpson, , Hall Johnson, 186 Google Scholar. See also New Republic (March–April 1933), in Simpson, , Hall Johnson, 178 Google Scholar.

109. Simpson, Hall Johnson, 192. Writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten claimed that composer Virgil Thomson was inspired by Run, Little Chillun to use an all-black cast in his opera Four Saints in Three Acts, for which Gertrude Stein wrote the libretto. See Carl Van Vechten, introduction to Four Saints in Three Acts (New York: Random House, 1934), 7. Most scholars have emphasized the contributions that Negro spirituals and jazz made to Thomson's work, but it seems possible that Johnson's use of modal music in an African American setting also made an impression. On Four Saints, see, for example, Barbara Webb, “The Centrality of Race to the Modernist Aesthetics of Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts,” Modernism/Modernity 7, no. 3 (2000): 447–69, and Lisa Barg, “Black Voices/White Sounds: Race and Representation in Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts,” American Music 18, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 121–61.

110. Johnson, , Run, Little Chillun, 253 Google Scholar.

111. Ibid., 253. It is possible that the materials collected in Torrend's Bantu Folklore influenced Johnson as he created the language of the Pilgrims’ worship. In addition, there seem to be Latin elements sprinkled throughout the brief lyrics of these compositions. See Hall Johnson, “Processional” and “Credo” from Run, Little Chillun, in Hall Johnson Collection, Rowan University.

112. Johnson, , Run, Little Chillun, 264, 252–53.Google Scholar

113. Johnson, Hall, “Plan for The Alliance for the Development of Afro-American Music,” in Simpson, Hall Johnson, 8485 Google Scholar.

114. Ibid., 86.

115. Ibid., 87.

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