Picture of Baptist Offspring, Southern Midwife—Jesse Mercer's Cluster of Spiritual Songs (1810): A Study in American Hymnody

Baptist Offspring, Southern Midwife—Jesse Mercer's Cluster of Spiritual Songs (1810): A Study in American Hymnody

Baptist Offspring, Southern Midwife—Jesse Mercer's Cluster of Spiritual Songs (1810): A Study in American Hymnody by Kay Norton

In addition to unraveling the musical implications of an early-nineteenth century hymnal, this book addresses an area of American musical history that has not received its due attention: pre-shape-note, Southern sacred music. Mercer managed to found several Baptist churches, supervised educational mission schools for the Creek and Cherokee Indians, championed the cause of higher education, developed and refined an influential hymn repertory, a project that spanned nearly half of his 53 year ministry.


About the Author

Kay Norton turned to American hymnody in 1994 after publishing about France's Société Nationale de Musique, twentieth-century American composer Normand Lockwood, and women choral conductors in the American collegiate environment.  In the present monograph, she continues the same broadly-based approach to music history by illuminating several of the contexts through which Jesse Mercer's Cluster of Spiritual Songs may be understood: as a Baptist document, a Georgia product, a hymnal reflecting the interests of women as well as slaves, and a symbol of the activities that brought Mercer into contact with the Creek and Cherokee Nations.

Norton is deeply interested in balancing the geographical representation in existing literature on American hymnody, which has highlighted the "Yankee tunesmiths" to a misleading extent.  To achieve that goal, she addresses Mercer's text-only hymnal using a scholarly method that is in part speculative.  Her meticulous research on texts and tunes ultimately reveals not only the musical implications of Mercer's hymnal, but also its broader meaning in its own region and country.

A native Southerner, Norton has served on the faculties of Brenau College in Georgia, the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Arizona State University, where currently she is a member of the music history faculty.


DMM/SM 34 / 226p / 0-89990-109-3 / Hardcover / 2002 / $38.00






“In Baptist Offspring, Southern Midwife, Kay Norton offers an important new interpretation of this historic hymnal.  While retaining standard hymnological inquiries into biographical, bibliographical, and literary matters, Norton sets those interests in a much wider context that also includes race, class, gender, religious and regional history, and musical resources…Norton provides a reading that significantly advances the study of this complex religious, musical, and cultural text.”

MLA Notes


Baptist Offspring, Southern Midwife…exhibits the fruits of a thorough and heart-felt investigative study of an active and influential man, a variety of historically revealing hymn texts…and the diverse and evolving culture in which they existed…Harmonie Park Press should be congratulated for bringing this important and interesting story and historical resource to our wider attention and for the quality evident in the production of the book.  The writing is both scholarly and friendly, detailed and story-like.  Norton has succeeded in presenting a convincing argument as to the importance of Mercer’s collection.”

College Music Symposium


“As Kay Norton compellingly demonstrates, Mercer’s Cluster played a pivotal role in the history of southern American hymnody, bridging the transition from a more spontaneous, flexible and purely melodic oral musical tradition to the fixed, rhythmically precise, multi-voiced texture of the shape note tradition…The book itself is beautifully produced: handsome cover, oblong format, and spacious layout.  There is a full bibliography, a first-line index, a hymn tune index, and an ample general index.”

The Hymn

“Since The Cluster has no music, Norton has created a tune repertory reflective of its musical environment by studying the history of each hymn text and matching them to possible tunes…To study a words-only hymnal and suggest possibilities for its use in churches is truly an ambitious task…Kay Norton is to be commended for her willingness to pursue such a difficult endeavor.”

American Music


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