Baylor 2017 Pruit Symposium: "Singing the Sermon: When the Message and Music Matter"

  • Melvin Butler
    Melvin Butler, Ph.D., associate professor of musicology at the University of Miami
  • Stephen Newby
    Stephen Newby, Ph.D., associate professor of music at Seattle Pacific University
  • Pruit Symposium 2017
Sept. 29, 2017

Media Contact: Terry_Goodrich, 254-710-3321

Follow Baylor Media Communications on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (Sept. 29, 2017) – The 2017 Pruit Memorial Symposium, “Singing the Sermon: When the Message and Music Matter,” will celebrate the heritage of Black Gospel Music Oct. 5-6 at Baylor University.

The symposium will host two key presenters: Melvin Butler, Ph.D., associate professor of musicology at the University of Miami, and Stephen Newby, Ph.D., associate professor of music at Seattle Pacific University, as well as additional speakers from a variety of fields.

“For African American Christians, gospel music is a holistic way of serving and enjoining oneself with Jesus Christ through singing and dancing during worship,” Newby said. “I’m overjoyed to be speaking at and attending the 2017 Pruit Symposium to discuss God’s word and His will.”

Robert Darden, professor of journalism, public relations and new media at Baylor University, will moderate one of the panel discussions.

Each of these extraordinary presenters is a highly regarded expert in the fields of ethnomusicology, African-American religious history and music, composition, choral conducting and performance, Darden said. “They don't just write about this music; they live it, they perform it. Some, like Dr. Stephen Newby and Dr. Melvin Butler, are nationally known as musicians as well as academics. It’s a rare combination.”

Butler will deliver his presentation, “From Spirituals to Blood Songs: Remembering Tradition and Deliverance through Gospel Performance,” at 11:15 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, at George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Butler is an ethnomusicologist whose research centers on music and religion of the African diaspora.

At 12:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, at Armstrong Browning Library, Newby will present his keynote presentation, “A Theology of African American Sacred Song and Liberation.” Newby is a composer, conductor, gospel/jazz vocalist and pianist. He also has served as a worship pastor for more than 25 years.

In addition to Butler and Newby, several other presenters, such as Deborah Smith Pollard, Terri Brinegar, Coretta Pittman, Jerry Zolten and Laura Nash with Andrew Virdin, will discuss the topic of black gospel music.

In coordination with the Pruit Symposium, Waco’s Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church will host an evening gospel music sing and celebration at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5. Dr. Newby will lead the session with other program personalities and Baylor graduate students. The celebration is free and open to the public.

“The Pruit Symposium is such a significant occasion for Baylor,” said John Wilson, interim dean of Baylor Libraries.“We’re excited to utilize our unique collections and further the impact of African American scholarship on campus.”

“Black gospel music engages both mind and emotions, heart and head, even as it turns one’s gaze heavenward,” said Todd D. Still, Ph.D., professor of Christian scriptures at Baylor University and Holder of the William M. Hinson Chair of Christian Scriptures. “In so doing, it restores and renews individuals for gospel work and witness in God’s good, yet broken, world.”

In addition to lectures and presentations, the Pruit Symposium will offer meet-and-greet opportunities, meals and discussion time. All sessions are free and open to the public. Luncheons require paid registration, and Baylor faculty, staff and students can attend luncheons at a reduced price.

Looking back on the previous symposium, “Marching to Zion,” Darden expects a large turnout for this year’s event. “Last year’s symposium was one of the most-attended, most-beloved and most talked-about conferences to ever come to Baylor. I still have strangers walk up to me and want to talk about it. I expect folks who attend one or more session of ‘Singing the Sermon’ to do the same.”

George W. Truett Theological Seminary is located at 1100 S. 3rd St. and Armstrong Browning Library is located at 710 Speight Ave.

The Pruit Memorial Symposium at Baylor University brings the perspective of Christian intellectual tradition on contemporary issues of common concern. Through the articulation of differing views within the realm of Christian understanding, Baylor aspires to be a locus for a distinctly Protestant and Christian worldview that is true to the best thoughts in Baptist tradition. In 1996, Ella Wall Prichard and the late Lev H. Prichard III of Corpus Christi established the Pruit Memorial Symposium Endowment Fund in memory of Helen Pruit Matthews and her brothers, Dr. Lee Tinkle Pruit and William Wall Pruit.

The 2017 Pruit Symposium is made possible by the Pruit Memorial Symposium Endowment. The symposium is sponsored by Armstrong Browning Library; Truett Seminary; Baylor Libraries; Baylor School of Music; Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media; American Studies; Department of History; Department of English; Department of Religion; and Center for Christian Music Studies.

To learn more about the 2017 Pruit Symposium and to find a full schedule of events, visit the Pruit Symposium website.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

Looking for more news from Baylor University?