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The Choral Negro Spiritual Arrangements and Compositions of Hall Johnson Performed in The Green Pastures

Matthew A Armstrong, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The Green Pastures, a play with music featuring Negro spiritual arrangements and compositions in the style of Negro spirituals by Hall Johnson, elevated The Hall Johnson Negro Choir and its conductor to a national platform. Hall Johnson (1888–1970) is considered one of the most significant early arrangers of the Negro spiritual. An influential conductor and composer, Johnson was a fervent advocate of the Negro spiritual. The combination of Johnson’s privileged upbringing with musical training and his childhood exposure to Negro spirituals as sung by his grandmother Mary Hall Johnson, a thirty-year slave, positioned him to effectively express his passion for the spiritual. Assembled in 1925, the Hall Johnson Choir was the first professional all-Negro choir in the United States. In 1930, Johnson was named music director for the Broadway production The Green Pastures, which featured his choir performing his Negro spiritual arrangements and compositions. The play by Marc Connelly, adapted from the collection of short stories Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun by Roark Bradford, was awarded the 1930 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The purpose of this study is to examine the music of The Green Pastures from radio broadcasts, a 1936 film adaptation, a piano/vocal solo songbook, extant choral octavos, and playbills. Varied tempi, keys, and portions of the songs that were performed in the aforementioned mediums will be outlined for comparison. Performance practices of the Negro spirituals in The Green Pastures will be illuminated to guide future performances of the play. As a result, an awareness of Hall Johnson’s role as a seminal arranger of Negro spirituals via the various platforms of this unique play with music will be reawakened.

Subject Area

Music history|Music|Theater History

Recommended Citation

Armstrong, Matthew A, "The Choral Negro Spiritual Arrangements and Compositions of Hall Johnson Performed in The Green Pastures" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13859374.