Corbitt collection provides glimpse into African hymnody

Ashley Allen
| Nov 21, 2022

A collection of more than 250 books, hymnals, Gospel songbooks, music scores, sound recordings, and video recordings that highlight various African dialects were donated recently to the Kathryn Bowld Music Library at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary by Nathan Corbitt, a 1985 Doctor of Musical Arts graduate and retired missionary to Eastern and Southern Africa with the International Mission Board.

The items “are the fruits of Dr. Corbitt’s research and translation of vernacular Christian music of Africa,” said Fang-Lan Hsieh, music librarian at the Bowld Music Library. “While on the mission field, he also published materials for church music training. These are important documents in the field of music and mission in Africa.”

Corbitt chose to donate the collection, which includes more than 140 hymnals, to Southwestern Seminary because it is “the one remaining place that has a history” of church music education, also adding the influence of one of his professors, the late T.W. Hunt, who taught as a professor of piano and organ at the Fort Worth institution from 1963-1987. Hunt was “very interested in music missions and he did a lot of research” as he looked into the field of ethnomusicology, Corbitt explained. Hunt assisted Corbitt with his doctoral dissertation as he researched “hymnody and ethnomusicology and how one applies traditional culture to one’s values and expression of those values in worship.”

Corbitt and his wife, Vickie, began serving as missionaries in Kenya in 1982, when he began to research ethnic Christian music to better understand its influence on indigenous worship. From 1988 to 1992, he served as the cross-cultural communications strategist for Eastern and Southern Africa, for the IMB.

Following the completion of IMB service in 1992, Corbitt began teaching at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, where he served on faculty in the areas of music and communications, ultimately chairing the institution’s Department of Communications Arts from 1994-2000. He retired from Eastern University in 2016 and was named emeritus professor and coordinator of social transformation.

Corbitt is the author of The Sound of the Harvest: Music’s Mission in Church and Culture and Taking it to the Streets Using the Arts to Transform Your Community.

The Nathan Corbitt Collection can be viewed in person at Bowld Music Library on the campus of Southwestern Seminary or online in the digital archives here.