Cover for EPSTEIN: Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War. Click for larger image

Sinful Tunes and Spirituals

Black Folk Music to the Civil War
Awards and Recognition:

Winner of the Simkins Prize of the Southern Historical Association, 1979. Winner of the Chicago Folklore Prize.

Classic study of black slave music in America

Awarded both the Chicago Folklore Prize and the Simkins Prize of the Southern Historical Association

From the plaintive tunes of woe sung by exiled kings and queens of Africa to the spirited worksongs and "shouts" of freedmen, in Sinful Tunes and Spirituals Dena J. Epstein traces the course of early black folk music in all its guises.

This classic work is being reissued with a new author's preface on the silver anniversary of its original publication.


"No previous scholar has told more about the manner of diffusion of African music and dance in the New World . . . . No one else has related with more telling effect the impact that Afro-American musical patterns had upon the sensibilities of the white public."--Lawrence W. Levine, Journal of American History

"Epstein has uncovered far more about early black music than anyone thought possible. Her luxuriant quotations and definitive treatments of a wide variety of musical subtopics make the book an essential reference volume and a marvelous storehouse of information."--John B. Boles, Journal of Southern History

"Sinful Tunes ensures that we will never again be able to sing or listen to a spiritual in quite the same way. We can now see more clearly than ever before what has shaped it; we have been taken nearer the soul of the music."--Hugh Brogan, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] definitive, indeed monumental study of black slave music in America."--Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., Musical Quarterly


Dena J. Epstein is a retired assistant music librarian at the Joseph Regenstein Library, University of Chicago, and past president of the Music Library Association.

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