Sacred Steel (musical tradition)

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Sacred Steel is a musical style and African-American gospel tradition that developed in a group of related Pentecostal churches in the 1930s.

The Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth, was founded in 1903 by Mary Magdalena Lewis Tate. Following her death in 1930, the church divided into three branches, known as the Keith, Jewell and Lewis dominions. The steel guitar was embraced in the worship of two of these dominions, the Keith Dominion (officially, The House of God Which Is the Church of the Living God the Pillar and Ground of the Truth Without Controversy), headquartered in Nashville[1] and the Jewell Dominion (Church of the Living God, Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Which He Purchased With His Own Blood, Inc.) headquartered in Indianapolis.[2] Brothers Troman and Willie Eason introduced lap steel guitar to worship services in place of the traditional organ.[3] This new instrument was met with great enthusiasm and taken up by others including the Bishop J.R. Lockley. The three toured together and later Willie put the new style down on record, recording a total of eighteen sides in the 1940s and 50s.

Since then, Sacred Steel has grown and flourished within the Keith and Jewell Dominions in churches in at least 22 states, including Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina and Tennessee. The most famous practitioner is Robert Randolph of the Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Randolph, the son of a deacon and a minister, took up pedal steel guitar at 17. Just seven years later, he went on to become one of the most original and talented practitioners of the Sacred Steel form.[4]

Willie Eason's nephew Aubrey Ghent had also become a celebrated steel guitarist, preserving the sacred steel tradition and bringing it to a wider audience. Ghent's father, Henry Nelson, was also schooled by Eason and played sacred steel for over 50 years, sharing the stage with Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson. Unlike Robert Randolph and the Family Band who have crossed over to doing more secular music, Aubrey Ghent has stayed closer to the gospel roots of tradition, as have many of the steel guitarists of the Jewell Dominion.

Notable performers[edit]


  1. ^ Green, Tony. (2002) "Soul of Steel" in St. Petersburg Times
  2. ^ Robert L. Stone, Sacred Steel: Inside an African American Steel Guitar Tradition (University of Illinois Press, 2010), chapter 8.
  3. ^ "Sacred Steel: The Steel Guitar in the Gospel Blues Tradition" from
  4. ^ Wharton, Ned (2001), Heavenly 'Sacred Steel': The House of God's Little-Known Sound Goes Mainstream.

External links[edit]

  • A Brief History of the House of God Steel Guitar Tradition by Robert L. Stone
  • Sacred Steel and The Empire State by Robert L. Stone
  • "Infused with Spirit: National Heritage Fellow Chuck Campbell".. By Robert L. Stone.
  • Aubrey Ghent Music and biography
  • “Sacred Steel”: Traditional Sacred African-American Steel Guitar Music in Florida Various Artists (links to samples from the CD)