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Voices Fall-Winter 2004:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read “Infused With Spirit: National Heritage Fellow Chuck Campbell” by Robert Stone here.
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Volume 30

Infused with Spirit: National Heritage Fellow Chuck Campbell by Robert Stone

Rochester resident Charles T. “Chuck” Campbell has been awarded the National Heritage Fellowship in recognition of his artistic excellence and lifetime contribution to the African American sacred steel guitar musical tradition. The fellowship, awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, recognizes lifetime achievement, artistic excellence and contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage. In addition to being a master of the art form, Campbell serves as a role model for the dozens of steel guitarists who play for House of God worship services. He is also a tireless advocate for their unique and compelling musical tradition.

The House of God, a Holiness-Pentecostal denomination, was founded in 1903. The electric lap-steel guitar was first commercially produced in the 1930s, when Hawaiian music was a significant component of mainland U.S. popular music. Inspired by the singing sound of the electric steel guitar played by Hawaiian musicians, some House of God musicians bought instruments, took lessons, and began to play for worship services. ...

Campbell represents the third generation of House of God steel guitarists. He is highly esteemed by clergy, musicians, and congregants throughout the geographic range of the House of God, which extends to twenty-six states, Canada, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, and Africa. Today, a fourth generation of steel guitarists in their teens and early twenties is bringing the tradition into the twenty-first century.
Chuck Campbell plays Jump for Joy at the Sacred Steel Convention
Chuck Campbell plays "Jump for Joy" at the Sacred Steel Convention, Sanford, Florida, 2001. Photo: Robert Stone
Among the numerous musicians Campbell has directly influenced is Robert Randolph, the New Jersey pedal-steel phenomenon who has brought music based on the House of God tradition to concert stages, jam-band festivals, and mainstream media, such as MTV. Randolph’s debut Warner Brothers album, Unclassified, was nominated for two Grammys in 2003. ...

Campbell accepts the National Heritage Fellowship with humility and grace. He considers himself a representative of all those musicians who went before him and takes seriously his position as a role model for emerging younger musicians. “I am deeply honored,” he says. “But I want people to know that I accept this award on behalf of all House of God steel guitarists.”


Robert Stone is the outreach coordinator for the Florida Folklife Program in Gainesville.

For nearly six decades, the music remained virtually unknown to the rest of the world. In 1995, the Florida Folklife Program produced the Sacred Steel cassette album, which was licensed by Arhoolie Records and distributed internationally in 1997. You can read more about "Sacred Steel" and listen to a music sample at the on-line Voices, Vol. 28, Nos. 3-4.

This article appeared in Voices Vol. 30, Fall-Winter 2004. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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