Dr. Kathy Bullock and Friends Uncovering the Songs of Slavery and Emancipation


Dr. Kathy Bullock and Friends will perform the “Songs of Slavery and Emancipation,” a powerful collection of songs originally written and sung by abolitionists and enslaved people in hopes of freedom on Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m. in Berea College’s Phelps Stokes Chapel. The performance is part of the Stephenson Concert Series. Dr. Bullock, the former chairperson of the College’s Music Department, is one of three music directors on the project.

For years, Mat Callahan, a global musician, author and activist, has used his love for music to research and inspire listeners, but this project is different. In 2015, Callahan discovered a song composed and sung by enslaved people preparing an insurrection in South Carolina in 1813. He began to question why there weren’t more revolutionary songs like these, and if there are, why aren’t they publicized. After seven years of research and study, Callahan’s vision has finally come to fruition. Berea College has been assisting Callahan in unearthing these inspiring pieces, and Dr. Bullock, former members of the Black Music Ensemble and others have worked with him to bring these lyrics to life. The release of the “Songs of Slavery and Emancipation” album, book, and documentary film on June 17 has expanded the reach of this message to many others.

Throughout the process of creating this project, Callahan learned many lessons. “First of all, I learned the significance of the slave revolts that have been written out of the history of the United States,” he said. “Secondly, I learned that people—both slave and free—used music to fight against the slave system. But these songs, like the history of resistance, have been forgotten or deliberately buried. This inspired me to try to bring this music and this history back to life. Because it can inspire us today to fight for what is right and it can show us how important music can be if it’s used for the benefit of all.”

Callahan describes his artistry as “people’s music.” Inspired by artists of different genres, he draws on those influences for his performances, delivering a one-of-a-kind spiritual experience of community and togetherness. Callahan is on a mission to enlighten the world about the power we possess to make a difference. His literary and musical works all promote taking a stand against inequalities often swept under the rug and ignored. He reminds us that we must work today to build the future we want to see tomorrow.

The story of Berea compelled him to perform the work here. Callahan states, “Berea is an inspiration because of its history and its principles. The ideas of its founders and the example it sets today are important not only because they are good for Berea and its students, but because they could be applied more widely and help solve the problems of education in the US. The concept of a work college, tuition-free education, and the commitment to aid disadvantaged youth are solutions, not just nice ideas.”

Ultimately, the message Callahan wants to convey with this performance is about unity. “We need to unite to struggle against suffering and injustice, and we need music to inspire us in that effort. We must share friendship, our common humanity, and we must celebrate that with song.”

This convocation is open to everyone, but all attendees must be vaccinated and wear masks. Only Berea College students who attend in person at Phelps Stokes Chapel will receive Convocation credit. This convocation will be livestreamed at https://www.berea.edu/iss/live.

Categories: News
Tags: Convocation, Music Department, Stephenson Memorial Concert

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 41 states and 76 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.