The Society for the Preservation of Spirituals

Spiritual Society back in national spotlight

By Robert Behre

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Society for the Preservation of Spirituals has been a Charleston institution since 1922, but it probably hasn't received this much national attention in decades.

On Sunday, the society's singers will appear on "Amazing Grace," a weekly Web and radio program by WKCR Radio in New York.

The 20-minute segment will air sometime between 8 and 10 a.m. and will be webcast on

The radio feature comes on top of the group's June 18 profile in The New York Times that ran under the headline, "A Black Cultural Tradition and Its Unlikely Keepers," referring to the group's white singers who perform African-American spirituals.

The national attention is likely more than the group has experienced since the 1930s, when the society sang for President Franklin Roosevelt in the White House and appeared on a national NBC broadcast. At one point, composer George Gershwin was a member.

Park Dougherty, a financial adviser and chair of the society's recordings committee, said the group had been less active in recent years but experienced new interest after it released its old recordings as compact discs in 2004.  Dougherty said the resurgence "is happening for two reasons: the beauty of the Gullah spiritual and our founders' decision to start recording them in 1936."

Alphonso Brown, an African-American tour guide who began a Camp Meeting spiritual series during the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, said he was inspired by the society when he first heard them.

"They were so good," he said. "They were preserving that style of music to make sure that we would always have it with us."

Dougherty, who hopes to stage a joint concert with the Camp Meeting group next spring, also has brought the society into the 21st century with a new website:

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.

Link to this story in Post and Courier

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