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Witnesses to Faith Horace Clarence Boyer

Ni'Mat Abdus-Sam'ad Ingrid Askew Cornelia Bailey Horace Clarence Boyer Sister Clare Carter Cain Hope Felder Rachel Harding W.W. Law James Lawson Lena McLin Abiodun Oyewole Charles Sherrod Zohara Simmons Cornel West


Horace Clarence Boyer

Photo of Horace Clarence Boyer "Like the blues, gospel will become part of the fabric of American music and will become synonymous with American music. It will be heard in elevators, over telephones, in department stores, movies and commercials. But while it is being used for advertising and dancing, it will also be used for meditation and worship." --Horace Clarence Boyer, How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel

Horace Clarence Boyer grew up in Winter Park, FL in a deeply religious home. Both his parents were ministers in the Church of God in Christ, and Boyers sang in the choir from third grade. At ages 12 and 13, Boyers and his brother, James, went to live with an aunt who taught them not just church music, but "sanctified music," which Boyers explains as "jubilant shout songs" - gospels and ballads.

Upon their return home, James and Horace began performing the new music they'd learned at local churches and, at ages 15 and 16, started recording gospel records as "the Boyer Brothers." With money earned from their performances, the brothers put themselves through Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach. The Boyer Brothers have since traveled throughout 40 states, appearing in concerts, festivals, and on television in solo performances, as well as with such famous gospel singers as Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward.

Much to his parents' chagrin - they didn't want him to be "learning music that was not for the Lord," - Boyers went on to earn M.A. and Ph.D degrees in music from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. He taught music theory and African-American studies at Albany State College in Georgia, the University of Central Florida, and from 1973 to 1999, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Boyers has published over 40 articles, contributed to many anthologies on music, written liner notes for gospel legends, and authored the popular book How Sweet the Sound: the Golden Age of Gospel. He served as Curator of Musical Instruments at the Smithsonian Institution and also as United Negro College Fund Distinguished Scholar-at-Large at Fisk University, where he directed the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers in 35 concerts.

Boyers has directed countless singers in choirs, ensembles, and workshops. With every group, he attempts to reach a mix of cultures and races. He spends an equal amount of time explaining the culture behind the song as he does the mechanics of the singing, "because if people don't know why and how they're doing something, it's never going to sound right."

His method of teaching also safeguards the roots of gospel. When Boyers was a young man, gospel music was just an extension of the church service: "When I came into gospel, I was really seeing it as a testimony to my beliefs, a way of testing the spirits. I was trying to be as close to God as possible." Gospel's popularity has taken it further away from its roots in the Church, and preserving this legacy has become central to Boyer's mission as a teacher, director, and scholar.

Upon his retirement in 1999, the University of Massachusetts established the Horace Clarence Boyer Gospel Music Fund in honor and recognition of his outstanding service.