Many who appreciate gospel, blues, and jazz music understand that these uniquely African American art forms derived from the early negro spirituals and folk music created and manifested by our ancestors as expressions of circumstance, mediums of communication, and means of spiritual sustenance. Our spirituals and their derivatives are arguably the only truly original American art forms.
In part, negro spirituals made their way into popular culture during and after Reconstruction. Fisk University in Nashville, TN was particularly instrumental in introducing and popularizing the genre, when in response to nearly closing its doors due to lack of funding, the University’s treasurer, a choir master and band sergeant moved by the beauty of the spirituals sung by many of the school’s students, organized the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
“You start singing a song, and when you start singing at first, according to the [former enslaved], you’re just singing the words. But after a while, it’s almost like serum. It begins to take the frown out of the face; the shoulders begin to come back to their natural position. What’s happening is you’re going through a cleansing process.”
The Jubilee Singers performed throughout the north and south spreading the spiritual healing and earning much-needed money that eventually helped save the University.
One of the early Fisk singers who helped further popularize the music was composer and musician, Noah W. Ryder. For two years, Ryder’s Fisk choir mate was the incomparable Roland Hayes. When not singing with the Choir, Ryder and Hayes maintained a musical relationship and often accompanied one another on solo recitals. In addition to singing with the popular Fisk Jubilee Singers and performing with Hayes, Ryder influenced and inspired William Christopher (W.C.) Handy, the self-proclaimed “Father of the Blues”.
In 1914, Noah W. Ryder had a son who he named Noah Francis Ryder. The younger Ryder would eventually carry on the family business. He learned to play the violin at a very young age and throughout his youth learned to also play the piano several other instruments. In the fall of 1931, the younger Ryder entered Hampton Institute where he eventually focused on music and according to the music faculty, proved to be “the most versatile student that Hampton Institute had ever known”. Named student conductor by the department chairman, it was said that he could arrange music so rapidly that he had been known to write out parts for a piece even while his group was performing, and then distribute the parts to be performed as the next number. In addition to his many scholastic and musical accomplishments, Ryder possessed great social skills, being a well-rounded person who mixed well with other students and was held in high esteem. During his senior year, Ryder organized a male group, then called the Hampton Institute Quartet, which later became the internationally famous Deep River Boys.
After graduating from Hampton, Ryder spent several years teaching and in 1944 was eventually drafted into the Navy. While in the Navy, he continued to compose and subsequently won the Grand Prize in the Navy War Writers’ Board Contest for his composition of “Sea Suite for Male Voices.” Honorable discharged from the Navy, Ryder then pursued and earned a Masters in music from the University of Michigan.
Ryder returned to Virginia to take charge of the music program at the Norfolk Division of Virginia State College. It was during this time that he was initiated into Omega Psi Phi Fraternity by way of the Lambda Omega chapter. In the opinion of many who followed Ryder’s career, one of his most challenging responsibilities was developing the music degree program at Norfolk State College, serving as the head of the music department until he became ill in 1962.
Ryder possessed many talents and skills and constantly exercised his life-long need to express himself. He knew as a composer, he had to compose. His conducting was not merely colorful; it showed a complete mastery of the techniques of conducting. His interpretation of music was so appropriate and so meaningful that occasionally he brought his audiences to tears. He had a complete and intuitive understanding of the finer points of each composition, an understanding which was based upon his training, careful study, and inner soul. In addition to composing music, Ryder also realized, to the end, that he had to honor his overriding commitment to music education.
Upon his passing in 1964, an admirer described Ryder as “a vigorous young man, full of laughter and a boundless, restless energy. Even when he relaxed on a chair he still gave the impression of a bird poised for flight…Although he worked tirelessly, he was still a fun-loving man with no trace of the temperamental vagaries so often associated with musical genius.”
In addition to the attached articles from the March 1949 and September 1964 Oracles, I invite you to check out the following online resources:
- Noah Francis Ryder: Composer and Educator by Marjorie S. Johnson – https://www.jstor.org/stable/1214300?seq=1. You will need to register for free on the JSTOR website in order to read this informative biographical essay on Noah F. Ryder. Johnson’s essay was the source for much of the information in this Monday Pearl. ( Johnson, M. (1978). Noah Francis Ryder: Composer and Educator. The Black Perspective in Music, 6(1), 19-31. doi:10.2307/1214300)
- Norfolk State University – https://www.nsu.edu/nsu-choirs/about
- Norfolk State University Choirs – http://www.nsuchoirs.com/about_the_choirs.html
- Noah Walker Ryder Discography – https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/mastertalent/detail/341700/Ryder_Noah_Walker
- Times Dispatch March 15, 1936 – https://www.newspapers.com/clip/67440880/noah-ryder-2/
- Detroit Tribune November 10, 1945 – https://www.newspapers.com/clip/67380142/noah-ryder-1/
- The News Leader April 16, 1952 – https://www.newspapers.com/clip/67441299/noah-ryder-3/
- Times Dispatch October 3, 1941 – https://www.newspapers.com/clip/67441559/noah-ryder-4/
- The New York Age November 17, 1945 – https://www.newspapers.com/clip/67441810/noah-ryder-5/
- Fisk Jubilee Singers – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylD4zvvN79Y
- Chapter 1 | Jubilee Singers | American Experience | PBS – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_jLGZrUuMI&t=302s
Make it a great week Brothers. Be noble!
3rd District History and Archives Committee
The Monday Pearl is provided by the Third District History and Archives Committee and is a weekly sharing of fraternity content, commentary, and research of historical value we hope Brothers will enjoy and from which Brothers will draw inspiration. Previous “Pearls” can be found at https://3rddistrictques.org/about-us/overview/monday-pearl/. The Committee encourages your feedback. Should you have reactions, comments, information, anecdotes, documents, and the like, related to any of the content we share, we’d very much like to hear from you. Please send all communication to firstname.lastname@example.org.