Troy Demps and African-American Hymn Lining

Hymn liner Troy Demps (left) and apprentice Brian Wright: Orlando (1995)

Hymn liner Troy Demps (left) and apprentice Brian Wright: Orlando (1995)

In recognition of Black History Month, we will highlight the uniquely African-American tradition of hymn lining.

The practice of lining hymns can be traced back to the 17th century when printed hymnals were scarce and many churchgoers—both slaves and whites—could not read.

A church elder or minister who could read would “line out,” or recite a hymn line by line, which in turn was repeated by the congregation. These hymns, such as “Amazing Grace” or “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” persisted and evolved in African-American churches after emancipation.

As Deacon at the Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, Troy Demps continues to practice hymn lining, and believes there is a more focused connection with the Holy Spirit among the congregation when the hymnal is set aside. Through the Florida Department of State’s Folklife Apprenticeship Program, he taught hymn lining in order to preserve the tradition and was awarded the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 2003.

This podcast features performances from Troy Demps and his apprentices at the Florida Folk Festival as well as a 1995 interview with folklorist Bob Stone.
[audio:http://fpc.dos.state.fl.us/memory/collections/folklife/mp3/podcasts/demps.mp3|titles=Troy Demps and African-American Hymn Lining|artists=State Archives of Florida]
Download: MP3

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4 thoughts on “Troy Demps and African-American Hymn Lining

  1. Is Troy famous for hymn lining, or does the significance lie in the fact that he is still practicing it? Overall, really cool. I’ve always wanted to participate in something like that. I feel like it would be a lot of fun, but also just a good life experience

    • While Troy Demps has been recognized as a master artist in hymn lining, it is perhaps most significant that he is still practicing and teaching the tradition. Through the Florida Department of State’s Folklife Apprenticeship Program, he has been able to teach several apprentices who may not have had the chance to learn how to line hymns otherwise. By teaching others, Demps has played an important role in preserving and developing what was once a dying tradition.

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