Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rap and going to church: Readers have suggested that the decline of black singing and the rise of rap is due to declining church attendance. Church is a great place, especially for poor people, to learn how to sing and perform.

One of my favorite things about mass is the chance to sing and to listen to the organist play classical music. If you're a singer like I am, you know how satisfying it is to exercise those pipes once in a while, but if you're not a professional and think that the karaoke circuit is a little pathetic, where do you ever get a chance? In the car? You look like a crazy person. Even in church, a guy who is in the choir or who sings in the pews feels a little funny, but at least it's legitimate.

My friend got me started in high school. He tried to persuade me to join the school choir--I told him it was gay. He twisted my arm and reminded me that Bono is a singer. I agreed to visit one time. We walked into a large room, and there were about 40 girls and 5 guys. I signed up immediately and was awash in females for the next two years.

But I digress. Back to the question. I looked at General Social Survey to see if the share of blacks ages 18 to 25 who go to church at least almost every week--you're going to have to go at least that often to be in the choir--dropped in the late 70s or early 80s:

Percent of young blacks attending church nearly every week or more

1972-1976 22.5
1977-1981 23.3
1982-1986 28.5
1987-1991 24.3
1992-1996 20.3
1997-2001 29.7
2002-2006 29.9

No evidence here. The numbers bounce around a little because sample sizes are not large, but the story here is one of stability over the past four decades. But since rap was created in the ghetto, let's try to focus on urban blacks (those living in the largest 100 SMSAs):

Percent of young urban blacks attending church nearly every week or more

1970s 23.7
1980s 28.1
1990s 21.2
2000s 30.0

Same basic story. Along with rap, the crack-related crime wave of the 80s was not preceded by a drop in religiosity.


  1. Thanks for looking into this. Every once in a while a very plausible hypothesis is proved wrong.

  2. Anonymous2:39 AM

    Your digression is very much in agreement with my personal observations. I've accompanied some choirs as a bassist, and they all were either predominantly female or far less picky when it came to auditioning male voices. It's a great way to spend plenty of time surrounded by plenty of women, yes.


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