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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Deacon Albert Likely singing
Photo by David Perry

Photo of Deacon Albert Likely
Photo by Deborah Smith Barney

Deacon Albert Likely
2000 posthumous awardee, Detroit (Wayne County), singer, leader, and teacher of lined out metered hymns

Albert Likely (1924-98) was a devoted deacon in Hartford Memorial Baptist Church (Detroit) and a master performer and committed teacher of the metered hymn. Created by black slaves in America, metered hymns are tunes led by a deacon or preacher with a good voice who defines the tune by chanting the lines of the hymn, which is called lining out. His lines are repeated in harmony by the congregation. The notes were not written but remembered and passed from one generation to the next. Many of these tunes have been lost.

Deacon Likely knew former slaves in his family near Evergreen, Alabama, who taught him metered hymn singing. His grandfather sang them as he farmed his land, and Deacon Likely recalled that the hymns drew others to the side of the road where impromptu church meetings evolved. His mother's tradition was to begin Christmas Day with a metered hymn rather than a holiday carol. By the age 16, Deacon Likely had become a metered hymn singer, too, and sang as he performed his farm chores.

When he moved to Detroit, Deacon Likely discovered that in virtually every church at least one person could perform metered hymns. When he joined Hartford Church, his gift was discovered and older deacons often sent new or younger deacons to his home to learn the art of lining out a hymn. Deacon Likely was unique in his ability to remember hymn tunes and to teach them. Because of Deacon Likely, many on the Board of Deacons at Hartford are adept at lining out and combining the right lyric with the correct tune and meter.

For several years, Deacon Likely participated in the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program as master teacher of several young deacons at Elyton Baptist Church. He also taught new generations of deacons in Pilgrim Baptist Church and instructed, inspired, and trained deacons of the Baptist churches in the Progressive National Baptist Convention to sing and lead metered hymns.

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