“Lining out” is the practice of singing or stating the upcoming lines of a hymn for the congregation by a song leader or preacher. Typically, the words are stated quickly, and then sung in a drawn-out, slowly rhythmic moan.
Ever since finding it for a collaged-together program of gospel videos I curated for Portland's historic Hollywood Theatre three and a half years ago, I've been mesmerized by the above performance of C.P. Preston's hymn "A Charge to Keep I Have," shot at Evergreen Baptist in Fort Lauderdale 15 years ago.
There's a recording of Leadbelly singing the song, "Look Away to Heaven," and in introducing the tune, the singer says that in his experience at the Baptist church he attended as a child, it was “sisters in the Amen corner” who performed the role of introducing the lining hymn.
Today lining hymns are the principal form of singing—purely a capella lined-out hymns—in the Southern Old Regular Baptist church; there are several excellent recordings of this material on Folkways. The tradition seems to have been equally strong in both black and white churches, from what I can tell.
Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...