Why Is Every Black Church Pastor Also Good At Singing? A Black History Month Mystery » VSB

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Why Is Every Black Church Pastor Also Good At Singing? A Black History Month Mystery



Recently, the Wife Person and I have started attending a new church. Actually, “started attending” is a misnomer. We’ve been there exactly twice — once because of an invitation from friends, and once a couple of weeks after that — which is exactly twice more than we’ve been to our home church in the last six months. Our attendance there started lagging because we moved six months ago, and it’s just too far away now. And every Sunday we were finding more excuses not to go. (I think one week I convinced her the car had engine gout.)

Anyway, this new church is a nice church. With both a younger congregation and a younger pastor than our home church. The last time we attended, however, he had some family obligation he had to attend, so a guest pastor pastored. And when this guest pastor was about to begin his sermon, he took a dramatic pause, and then he started to sing. Acapella. The choir joined him after maybe 15 seconds, and then the rest of the congregation did. This lasted for maybe a minute and a half. And then he (finally) began the sermon.

Now, if you’ve been to a Black Baptist church before, you know this is not that uncommon. Pastors will sometimes lead the choir in song. Sometimes they’ll begin their sermons with songs. Sometimes they’ll break out in song while preaching. It’s an accepted and even anticipated part of the Black church experience; one of the many factors contributing to the rhythm of the church’s collective zeitgeist. Again, as a person who’s been in dozens of different churches and has seen dozens of pastors pastor, this happening is not uncommon.

But what is uncommon, statistically at least, is that every single Black church pastor I’ve heard sing — which is every single Black pastor I’ve heard preach — can sing. That guest pastor could have auditioned for American Idol. As could that church’s regular pastor. As could the pastor at my home church. And all the guest pastors they’ve had. Are they all great singers? No. They can’t all saaang sing. It’s not like there’s a conglomeration of preaching-ass Peabo Brysons in Pittsburgh. But they all sing well enough to be, like, the fifth member in a six member band. Basically, they can all be Otis. Or Latavia Roberson.

And although my evidence is 100% anecdotal, completely limited to the greater Pittsburgh area, and supported by absolutely no research of any kind, I’m led to believe every Black church pastor in the country is also good at singing. Which, again, makes no statistical sense. Because only (an estimated) 17% of the population can sing. And only (an estimated) 0.00017% of the population happens to be pastors at Black churches. Which is like, I don’t know, all the taco truck owners in the country also being unusually great at Connect Four.

The only question left is why. Why does every Black church pastor know how to sing? Why is there a 100% chance that if you’re in a Black church and the pastor decides to lead the singing of a song, he’ll have a voice that’ll make you think “This dude can definitely do some commercial jingles for a furniture company or something“?

I don’t have any answers. But I have some theories.

1. Knowing how to sing is an unspoken but concrete requirement of pastoring

This is my favorite theory. It’s also the least likely theory. Which makes it my favorite. Because it’s just more fun to imagine some clandestine council of hooded and solemn-faced voice judges deciding whether to allow prospective pastors to enter seminary school.

2. Pastors spend so much time in church — and so much time singing church songs around other people who can actually sing — that they eventually learn how to carry a note by osmosis

This is one of the least fun theories. Because it makes the most sense. And because doesn’t involve a bunch of Black Simon Cowells dressed like Mace Windu. I really, really, really want the clandestine council thing to be true.

3. Pastors speak in front of large crowds for a living. People who speak in front of large crowds for a living often take measures to take care of their voices. Vocal coaches, massage treatments, teas with lemons and couscous and shit in them, etc. Perhaps this also helps with their singing voices. 

Another unfun theory. Let’s just move on.

4. I’m terrible at singing. So terrible at it that I grant anyone who is not a vocal train wreck with “Oh, he/she can sing” status. Basically, for me “he can sing” just means “his singing isn’t abject assjuice.”

This, unfortunately, is also a likely theory. When I sing, I sound like a dog barking at a dog barking on a fire engine. And not an American fire engine, but one of those European fire engines from the Bourne movies.  And maybe I’m so bad that I assume anyone who is not terrible can actually sing. When, in reality, they’re just “not terrible.”

(Interestingly enough, a recurring theme through my adult life has been people — teachers, relatives, and even the occasional cashier — asking if I can sing, and recruiting me to their church choirs. Because apparently my voice makes people assume I can. And I always tell them “no” with a smile. But I’m crying on the inside.)

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • DBoySlim

    My dad is a preacher. His singing sucks. Theory debunked.

    • Damon Young

      you need more people

      • DBoySlim

        Well now that I think about it…

    • Sigma_Since 93

      Some of the women in the home mission would say otherwise. #catchapastor

    • TeeChantel

      I believe you. My dad is a preacher too. He used to be able to sing and now he can’t.

      • Quirlygirly

        Some people loose their voice when they get old. Especially if they dont sing as much as they used too

        • TeeChantel

          Yep, that is exactly it. He didn’t use his singing voice and ultimately lost it.

    • Madame Zenobia

      My childhood pastor couldn’t sing either. He was sooooooo bitter about it. I mean BITTER. I think it was because the majority of the other pastors in town, could sing and they’d all lead a song any time they’d come visit our church. His face get mad agitated when they’d start singing. He’s been gone from our church almost a decade, but I remember that. Dude would be maaad.

      My pastor now can saaaang. Down home, backwoods of Tennessee, 1932 saaang. You know it’s gonna be good when you hear “I-iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-I-iiiiiiiiii-I I love the Lord, he heard my cry-iiiiiiiiiii…..” Can’t nobody enunciate the letter/word ‘I’ like a Black Baptist preacher.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    I went to a funeral late last year for a great-uncle. The church was out in Queens, somewhere on Queens Blvd.

    The pastor was like 40-ish. A widower, newly married, and I’d say he was well built for a very tall bald man who’s clearly not fat nor small…just somewhere in the middle. I’ve never seen a pastor look like that before. On top of a good sermon, a call to arms for us to appreciate people while they are alive…homeboy SANG. Not that he could sing. He SANG. I mean….if I was a talent scout..I would have bumrushed him, stopped the funeral persession, and tried to get him signed IMMEDIATELY.

    But…I guess that’s a good back up card to have when trying to make sure church attendance is good. Good preaching + good singing = filled pues.

  • Courtney Wheeler

    Ironically I was just complaining to a friend how A. It could be dead into the winter….why are black churches so dang hot? B. There’s never enough programs during Easter service…never. C. I’m kinda what you call a “heathen” I think the last time I attended any religious function is when “Watch the Throne” was out.

  • Well, the good thing about having a voice that makes people assume you can sing is, you’d probably be good for voice over work, if you ever wanted to try. And that’s good money, plus kinda swaggy. No one ever hears me and goes, “Oh yeah, that nasaly, deep-voiced girl can sing,” but I can. I’m crying on the inside (in harmony) with you.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      On a recent road trip, someone told me I could sing. I didn’t believe her. While she drove, she made me sing for her to debunk my own theory. I sang for an hour. She said it was great.

      I secretly think she was lying and was taping me, and now I may have a WorldStar video with all sorts of nonsense attached to it like ‘look at this non-singing negro break the car windows”

      • lol I mean, my secret fear is to be on WorldStar and not realize it. But that’s a hilarious thought that you could be on there just singin your heart out.

        Karaoke has just been added to the next meet up plans. I will be handling all Nicki Minaj rap solos.

        • RewindingtonMaximus

          Damnit Sawyer, I just wanted to get drunk and slightly embarrass myself. Now you’re gonna make me go ALL THE WAY.

          • Yep. You’re singing El Debarge and you betta not hit an off note.

            • Quirlygirly

              Make sure his sings “I like it” and hits that high note right on the end.

              • lol That would shut. it. down.

              • RewindingtonMaximus


                • Quirlygirly

                  *Herman Cain smile

            • RewindingtonMaximus

              Well…..prepare to be severally disappointed as I sing the s h i t out of I Like It.

        • Cleojonz

          I love Karaoke. You ninjas better let a sista know. I will be in there!

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            You better mean every word of that!

            • Cleojonz

              I do so long as it does not conflict with a swim weekend. I swear my daughters’ budding swim careers are ruining my social life. I have missed two brunches this year already thanks to swim.

    • Damon Young

      “Well, the good thing about having a voice that makes people assume you can sing is, you’d probably be good for voice over work, if you ever wanted to try.”

      my pittsburgh accent is apparently too heavy for that. the only voiceover work i’d be able to do is for primanti brothers sandwiches.

      • I was unaware Pittsburgh had an accent, so I went to YouTube to check it out. From one Pennsylvanian to another, youse guys sound funny.

        • the Black PGH accent doesnt sound like that lol. its… different.

          • Squish


            A lot of hard Rs and lazy Is. Lol.

          • I should’ve figured as much lol.

        • Squish

          Naw, Fam.

          Thats how WHITE people sound.

          Black people from Pittsburgh who sound like these j*offs either grew up around white people, or they’re making fun of how the white people talk here.

          The Black Pittsburgher accent is mildly similar, in that we pronounce “shower” and “warshed/needs warshed” the same as white people, but WAYYYYYYYYY different.

          Our accent is…different AF. Lol.

          • lol This topic needs a YouTube video dedicated to it then! I’m intrigued…

            • Squish

              I just might make a YouTube video about this, then. Lol.

              This will be interesting. Lol.

          • Sigma_Since 93

            Yeah Champ, you have the accent but you don’t sound like this. You can hear it when you say home.

            • Squish

              This made me chuckle so hard, because I said “home” and heard exactly what you’re talking about. ????

      • Courtney Wheeler

        Curious…what does a Pittsburgh accent sound like?

        • Epsilonicus


        • Just thought the saaaaaaaaaaaame thing!

      • You have an accent? On what planet?

        • miss t-lee

          On this one.

      • miss t-lee

        I remember your accent when you and PJack used to post interviews and such.
        It’s slight, like when you say certain words, but to my Texan ears, I definitely picked up on it.

    • Courtney Wheeler

      There was this woman in my congregation growing up where I dreaded sitting next to her. When we would sing hymns she had the voice of a cat being thrown in a tube of acid.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Well that’s a lovely visual.

        • Courtney Wheeler

          She’s legendary. NOBODY wanted to sit next to her…

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            Straight leper status huh…now I wanna know what she looks like.

      • She probably had a lovely speaking voice lol.

        • Quirlygirly

          hopefully she did- something had to be going for her..lol

    • Pinks

      I hum and sing awl day, and white folks at work think I have a great voice. I think I can carry a note or two, but nothing more. Dang, that reminds me of this time I embarrassed the eff out of myself behind some people lying and telling me I could sing.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    The key is singing the pieces of a song that allow you to carry a tune. Never attempt to hit the soprano parts. If you truly can’t sing as a pastor, make sure your humming game is strong.

    • Pinks

      And make sure your words rumble in your chest. I dunno how every black pastor does that, but they have a knack for it.

      • Sigma_Since 93

        with the HA! after each phrase…HA!

        • Pinks

          He preaching and you in your seat like


          • Damon Young

            this gif is from the best music video of all-time

            • Quirlygirly

              It is a very good music video but it was dark to me- I mean in terms of lighting.

              • Junegirl627

                dont watch videos too much which song is it

                • Quirlygirly

                  The name of the song is “Never Catch Me” by Flying Lotus ft Kendrick Lamar. The video is amazing

                  • Junegirl627

                    Good looking out Quirly

            • kneelbeforetigers

              That video makes me weep like whoa

            • Pinks

              I’ve actually only seen the gif and not the real video. Who’s it by?

              • Quirlygirly

                “Never Catch Me” by Flying Lotus ft Kendrick Lamar.

        • fxd8424

          Yaaaas! Gotta have the HA!

      • Amazonian Midget

        Yeah, my husband is going through his ordination process with the AME church…they learn how to do that with their voices. All this time, I thought it was the spirit. Lol

    • Val

      The deacons are the best at humming. Lol They ought to get together and make an album. I’ve heard a few deacons who were really amazing at humming, like I wanted everyone to be quiet so I could hear the deacon hum.

  • Jocelyn

    I was ready to dismiss this post a crazy because I have certainly encountered pastors who cannot sing. Then I read theory #4 and it all became clear.

  • Jennifer

    *puts on former voice teacher hat*

    It’s #2

    *takes off hat*

    Shout out to all of my Baptists!

    • YeaSoh

      Lol I feel like a lot of time they’re just imitating what they heard someone else do. Like if you can fake an accent or imitate someone’s weird voice you can probably also fake/imitate a decent vocal performance

      • Damon Young

        but if you fake a decent vocal performance, isn’t that the same thing? if you can fake sing, doesn’t that mean you can sing for real?

        • YeaSoh

          Umm not really… Reason being (and this is solely my theory- I know nothing about singing beyond my extraordinary performances in the shower and my car) that actual singers have technique that is actually recognizable by other actual singers. You fakers ain’t really fooling anybody but those who can’t really sing themselves and well other fakers… Make sense?

  • Numbah5

    “It’s not like there’s a conglomeration of preaching-ass Peabo Brysons in Pittsburgh. But they all sing well enough to be, like, the fifth member in a six member band. Basically, they can all be Otis. Or Latavia Roberson.” *dead*
    Its lines like this that keep me coming back…Well done.

    • Ess Tee

      Poor Otis.

      • brothaskeeper

        Nobody paid to come see him…

  • IsitFridayyet?

    HAHAHA *gasp* HAHAHA

    I am trying to think of an example that goes against this but I can’t. I’ve yet to meet a pastor who was unable to carry a tune.

    • StillSuga

      My Pastor is can whoop and holla with the best of them but he can’t sing a lick and LOVES to kick off all the old timey hymns, smh lol

  • Pinks

    #2 makes the most sense in my brain. Like if you been in the pulpit all those years you had to pick up some technique from Sr. Cloefield at some point.

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