Collector and scholar of religious folksong. Professor of German at Vanderbilt
University, Jackson discovered a rich body of music sung throughout the South and
preserved in songbooks. He became the first major scholar to describe, classify, and trace
the origins of this vast repertoire, originally in White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands
( 1965), a study of shape-note hymnody.
His most controversial assertion—expressed in White and Negro Spirituals (1943) and
elsewhere—opposed the prevailing theory of African origins by stating that “Negro
spirituals” derived directly from “White spirituals” transmitted to African Americans
primarily through camp meetings and revivals. Jackson’s reliance on printed texts, his
emphasis on melody and lyric to the exclusion of contextual factors as well as rhythm
and vocal embellishment, and his reluctance to concede any substantial African influence
have since been vigorously attacked as erroneous, even racist, most scholars in the late
20th century preferring a theory of syncretism, hybridization, and exchange.
Born in New England and reared in the South, Jackson came to the study of religious
folksong through attending and participating in singing conventions and mining old
hymnals, which resulted in three collections: SpiritualFolk-Songs of Early America
(1937), Down-East Spirituals (1942), and Another Sheaf of White Spirituals (1952).
Jacksons research demonstrated origins of spirituals in British and American religious
verse and in secular folk tunes; traced diffusion from New England to the South;
established the vital roies of evangelism, revivalism, singing schools, and the camp
meeting; demonstrated common origins by grouping tunes into what he called “tune
families”; and created a typology of folk hymns, revival spirituals, and religious ballads.
He was also an active organizer of singing events and an early advocate for introducing
American folk music in public schools.
Epstein, Dena J. 1982. Myths about Black Folk Music. In Folk Music and Modern
Sound, ed. William Ferris and Mary L.Hart. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, pp.
Wilgus, D.K. 1959. The Negro-White Spirituals. In Anglo-American Folksong Scholarship since
1898. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp. 344–364 et passim.
Yoder, Don.  1964. Introduction. White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands, by George
Pullen Jackson. Hatboro, PA: Folklore Associates, pp. i–xv.