Jazz musician and Yale music scholar Willie Ruff, who uncovered the links between 18th century Scottish singing and black gospel music, has connected another group to the style: American Indians.
A descendant of an
"Never in my experience have such widely divergent groups of people, coming from traditions so vastly different, been brought together under one roof around a gratifying theme like this," said Ruff, who is black and a native of
Ruff is convinced that "presenting the line"—the unaccompanied singing of psalms in Gaelic by Presbyterians of the Scottish Hebrides—is the direct antecedent of "lining out," a hymnal style of singing of 19th century slaves that is still practiced by a dwindling number of Southern churches.
Ruff--a bassist and French horn player who played with Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie-- believes that "lining out" evolved into the call-and-response of spirituals and gospel music that, in turn, influenced virtually every other type of American music.
In traditional line singing, a designated person sings a line solo, inviting congregation members to follow in their own time and with their own harmonies. The result is an echoing, surging and radiant chorus that critics have likened to waves of music crashing against the walls of a church.
Ruff's work has received extensive publicity in
Hugh Foley, a communications and fine arts professor at
"You have all these disparate traditions coming together to produce something new," said Foley, who is working with Ruff. "The Creeks were in between it all."
Ruff said he was surprised to learn that all three groups know the same hymn: "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah."
Ruff had been unaware that Indians might practice the form until he received an e-mail from Jane Bardis of
Intrigued, Ruff traveled to
The influence of Scottish singing on the Creeks "has been an uncharted field, because it's not what people look for in Indian culture," Ruff said. "If (scholars) are going to study Indian culture, they want pure Indian culture."
"The tonalities of American Indian singing are different than Western singing," he said. "Although the native people picked up the African and European styles, there were some aspects that, if you're just used to European music, sound a little off key, but they're working within that tradition. ... What they all have in common is the lining-out style."
Click here to listen to Muskogee Creek line singing.