Nick Spitzer, professor of American studies and anthropology at Tulane University and producer of public radio’s “American Routes,” spearheaded the first-ever tour of a “sacred steel” gospel band to China this week. The 10-day tour begins on May 13 and features The Campbell Brothers who will play to audiences at American Cultural Centers as well as U.S. Consulate and U.S. Embassy engagements in Shanghai, Nanjing, Shengyang and Qingdao.
The Campbell Brothers, considered some of the finest examples of the sacred steel tradition will play four concerts across China during a tour organized by public radio’s “American Routes,” which is produced at Tulane University.
This is the third tour presented by “American Routes” in China. The radio program received a Taiji award from the China Conservatory of Music (2012) for preservation and presentation of traditional music, and later organized U.S.-China exchange programs with cowboy song and dance, New Orleans jazz and Cajun dance music as well as seminars on comparative cultural preservation policy in both countries.
“We approach the conservation of vernacular culture by creating space for performance traditions here and abroad, on public radio and the concert stage, at a street parade or local festival. U.S. audiences can hear the results of our cultural diplomacy through a diversity of American traditions on ‘American Routes’ radio early next year,” Spitzer says.
The “sacred steel” style features the Holy Spirit’s “voice” – a signature steel guitar sound characterized by single-note passages that uncannily imitate African American vocal styles and drive spirit-filled church services. The style arose in Florida’s House of God churches in the 1930s when church musicians introduced the widely popular Hawaii steel guitar into worship services. Since then steel guitarists, often as duos, have provided the driving musical force for the joyful church gatherings.
Tulane University is providing tour support along with the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the US Department of State and American Culture Centers at Nanjing University for Posts and Telecommunications and University of Shanghai for Science and Technology through partnerships with New York Institute of Technology and the University of North Dakota.