avatar for Ashon Crawley

Ashon Crawley

Ashon Crawley teaches Religious Studies and African American and African Studies at University of Virginia. He is author of Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (2016).

"The Hammond B-3: Blackness and Circum-sacred Performance"
 Black life is circum-sacred performance. It is a life, a lifeworld, a sociality and being together in the world against the notion of ascendancy. It is a life about honoring that which has been absented, that which has been disappeared, a life that honors and treats as sacred that which western thought sought to have black folks forget. Yet it is also a form of life that produces constraint, constraint that is capacious, constraint against constraint and enclosure, constraint that is against the violence and exclusion of western thought. As circum-sacred, it is the performance of centrifugal, centripetal, which is together centrifugitive, movement.
In this paper, I talk about the sound making practices of Blackpentecostal musicians on the Hammond B-3 Organ instrument to consider the ways circum-sacred performance is a grounding wire for black performance in general, how the circum-sacred serves as sign and sound for thinking relation in black sociality and relationality. I discuss how style for Hammond organists – meaning chord changes, chord structure – accrues to locations, how sound is considered to be a thing that announces time and space. Musicians often talk about, for example, the difference between Old School and New School playing, between the Brooklyn Sound and the Chicago Sound and the Houston Sound. Time and place.
What do the designations of a sound by way of a time period and city mean for how musicians conceive of their placement in the world? And how does their musicianship make worlds? They do not denigrate nor dismiss the “sound” of others but try to recognize and be attentive to the relationship between their “sound” and that of others. This spacetime difference between is the space of black performance, is the space of improvisation and play, is the space for the enfleshment of possibility.