Singing for Freedom The Hutchinson Family Singers and the Nineteenth-Century Culture of Reform Scott Gac

Publication date:
29 Jun 2007
Yale University Press
328 pages: 235 x 156 x 24mm
24 b-w illus.
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In the two decades prior to the Civil War, the Hutchinson Family Singers of New Hampshire became America’s most popular musical act. Out of a Baptist revival upbringing, John, Asa, Judson, and Abby Hutchinson transformed themselves in the 1840s into national icons, taking up the reform issues of their age and singing out especially for temperance and antislavery reform. This engaging book is the first to tell the full story of the Hutchinsons, how they contributed to the transformation of American culture, and how they originated the marketable American protest song.
Through concerts, writings, sheet music publications, and books of lyrics, the Hutchinson Family Singers established a new space for civic action, a place at the intersection of culture, reform, religion, and politics. The book documents the Hutchinsons’ impact on abolition and other reform projects and offers an original conception of the rising importance of popular culture in antebellum America.

Scott Gac is visiting professor of American studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and an accomplished double bass player.

“Gac’s book is a rare work of cultural history that is a joy to read and that sheds enormous light on the era, suggesting the texture and feel of the time.”—John Stauffer, Harvard University



"Scott Gac is a splendid narrative craftsman, schooled in history and musicology. His 'Singing for Freedom' is a unique and compelling book—the first work to carefully uncover the busy, fascinating intersection of music, popular culture, commerce, celebrity, and abolitionism. Behold: a time long before Bob Dylan when lyrics really mattered, and singing abolitionists were rock stars with political clout."—David W. Blight, Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, Yale University

“In Singing for Freedom Scott Gac offers readers a remarkable look at the music of America's first great age of reform. The Hutchinson Family Singers gave voice to the popular movement for radical change not unlike the anti-war and pro-Civil Rights musicians of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. But in Gac's artful hands, the family's history reveals much more, showing us the nexus between religion and reform, individualism and the search for community, and the entrepreneurial spirit and moral impulse that defined the era. No one hoping to understand the culture of the 19th century can afford to overlook this book.”—Carol Berkin, author of Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence

“The Hutchinson Family Singers were the era’s best-known musicians, admired by the powerful and powerless alike.  Singing for Freedom illumines beautifully these extraordinary lives, etching sharply the highlights and the shadows.”—Dale Cockrell, author of Excelsior: Journals of the Hutchinson Family Singers, 1842-1846