March 27, 2024 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Barnard Observatory Tupelo Room
Afton Thomas

“‘Ain’t I Pretty?’: Sweet Daddy Grace and the Sacred Blues of the Badman”

Xavier Sivels

From the summer of 1926 until his death in 1959, Charles Manuel Grace made a name for himself as the faith-healing leader of the United House of Prayer for All People (UHOP). Establishing widespread support for his ministry in working-class communities in the American Southeast, he organized the UHOP as an alternative to mainstream churches by blending charismatic religion and secular culture. Grace adapted the “badman” archetype of the blues to inform his ministry, upend traditional notions of Black masculinity, and blur distinctions between the sacred and the profane. The result was a multimillion-dollar religious empire centered around his embodiment of the badman in the pulpit as “Sweet Daddy” Grace.

Xavier Sivels is a doctoral candidate in history at Mississippi State University. His research looks at the intersections of African American history, popular music, and gender/sexuality. His dissertation “Freakish Man: Sexual Blues, Sacred Beliefs, and the Transformation of Black Queer Identity, 1870–1957,” uses Black popular music and religion to trace how Black working-class culture changed from accepting, and even celebrating, queer sexuality in the public sphere to insisting that it remain closeted. Sivels was the 2023 Study the South Research Fellow.

SouthTalks is a series of events (including lectures, performances, film screenings, and panel discussions) that explores the interdisciplinary nature of Southern Studies. This series is free and open to the public, and typically takes place in the Tupelo Room of Barnard Observatory unless otherwise noted. Visit southernstudies.olemiss.edu for more information about all Center events.

Xavier Sivels in a green suit with a flower in the lapel