Judith Weisenfeld is the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Her research focuses on African American religious history, with particular interest in migration and urbanization, film and popular culture, gender and sexuality, new religious movements, and the intersections of religion and race. Her books include New World a Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (2016), which won the 2017 Albert J. Raboteau Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions, Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion in American Film, 1929–1949 (2007), and African American Women and Christian Activism: New York's Black YWCA, 1905–1945 (1997). Her essays have been published in the Journal of Africana Religions, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, American Religion, and Religion & American Culture, among others. Her current research explores the intersections of psychiatry and African American religions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She is an elected member of the Society of American Historians and an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
This presentation focuses on the career of choral conductor and arranger Eva Jessye, who served as the musical director for the 1929 MGM film "Hallelujah", and whose choir appeared in the original Broadway production of Porgy and Bess and the Virgil Tompson and Gertrude Stein opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. The talk considers the interplay of African American religious traditions, black folk music, and European classical literature and music in her work as a means to consider broader questions about the politics of African American religious cultures. I discuss her oratorios, including The Life of Christ in Negro Spirituals (1932) and The Story of Job (1936), and her major work Paradise Lost and Regained: A Folk Oratorio (1930s).