Pastor shares musical knowledge

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Kathryn Lucariello / Carroll County News Rock Springs Baptist Church Pastor Acra (pronounced "Ay-kruh") Turner gave a lively, musical presentation on the background of Negro spirituals at Monday's AARP meeting. Turner performs with Pine Mountain Jamboree in Eureka Springs.

HOLIDAY ISLAND -- Members of Carroll County AARP were treated to a lively presentation by Rock Springs Baptist Church Pastor Acra Turner on Monday.

His topic was "The Background of Negro Spirituals."

Turner, a retired college basketball coach, was born and raised in Richmond, Va. His mother was a gospel radio announcer, and Turner sang with his siblings in the church choir and in his high school choir.

With much humor, Turner told the story of how he hadn't learned to play the piano, so when he sang in church, he was always accompanied. One Sunday the accompanist didn't show.

"I got frustrated and angry," he said, "not a good way to be in church. So I ran to the drugstore to a visiting preacher and said, 'Brother Dale, would you pray so that I can play the piano? Then I won't have to rely on others to accompany me.' I thought he'd go home to pray, but he took my hands and prayed, and next Sunday, I was playing for services."

Turner had AARP members arrange chairs in a circle around the piano, and he played and sang several lines from well-recognized spirituals.

He said his mother and grandmother told him about what the spirituals really meant.

"These were songs sung in the fields and had to do with the Underground Railroad," he said. "They had nothing to do with church."

He said when people wanted to get messages to each other on different plantations, especially about escaping slaves, the spirituals served as communication about what was going on.

When a slave was ready to run, the people would sing, "Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus."

"Master wouldn't mess with them because when they sang, they worked harder and a lot faster," he said.

Other spirituals, like "Wade in the Water" would give information that runners should keep to the creeks to avoid being tracked by dogs.

Turner also talked about hymns like "Amazing Grace," written by slave ship owner John Newton, who lost his family at sea, gave up the slave trade and became a preacher.

The song was not originally a hymn but a sermon, with 22 verses, Turner said. He also talked about how some of the tunes go back to Ireland and Scotland.

Negro spiritual tunes have distinctive qualities, he added.

"How you tell if a hymn was originally a Negro spiritual is that every note is played on the sharps and flats -- on the black keys."

He said "Amazing Grace" has that pattern, which was how it was determined the tune was originally a slave song.

"There are some songs we sing in churches that have never made it into a songbook," Turner said.

In addition to pastoring and ministering at nursing homes with his wife, Joann, Turner performs with the Pine Mountain Jamboree in Eureka Springs.

Carroll County AARP welcomes everyone to their monthly meeting the second Monday of the month at 10 a.m. at the Holiday Island Clubhouse.

For more information, call Richard Nickelson at (479) 253-1725.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: