Hidden History: Raising a hymn

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – For more than 100 years, hymns have provided messages and music.

As music has evolved, so have the traditional sounds inside churches. But one group has found a way to keep history alive through their music.

Inside Greater Mount Canaan Missionary Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., an old art form has taken on new life.

A musical group called the Disciples of Praise do what’s called “raising hymns.” It’s a form of song known as “call and response” that dates back to slavery.

“Back in slavery time quite naturally they didn’t want them to know how to read, so they couldn’t read,” said Deacon Wesley Johnson of Disciples of Praise. “As they went older and older you may have the preacher or some designated one that read it, or they may not didn’t have but one book.”

The hymns fall into three categories: standard, common metered, and long. They vary by the length of the notes. As instruments have increased in popularity during services, this form of music has seen a significant decrease in many churches – but it’s been just the right beat to keep the Disciples of Praise in harmony.

“What’s so unique about it is a bunch of men from different backgrounds and different churches come together and be able to co-exist. That’s one of the things that’s so unique about our group,” Johnson said.

The Disciples of Praise aren’t just using their voices to sing: They’re also raising money for a scholarship while keeping a dying art – and history – alive.

“If it dies then they will never know about their history,” Wesley said. “If you don’t know where you came from then you don’t know pretty much where you’re going. So everybody needs to know about their history.”