Fannie Bell Chapman was a charismatic faith healer who composed gospel music that she sang at religious ceremonies she conducted in Centreville. Centreville was also the home of Anne Moody, whose book Coming of Age in Mississippi chronicled her struggles during the civil rights movement.
Chapman was part of a long, important tradition of black women who sang and healed outside the male-dominated church. Denied access to the pulpit, these women became spiritual healers who performed their own religious ceremonies. They took their healing into the streets and back roads of their community and had a significant impact on their followers.
Chapman described her healing ceremony as “a hallelujah time.” During the ceremony, the spirit descended and people were possessed, some spoke in tongues, and Chapman healed the sick. During one memorable ceremony in her living room, the floor began to shake as worshippers danced. Chapman continued to sing as she waved her hand and summoned dancers out of the house and into her backyard, where she continued the ceremony.
I first met Fannie Bell Chapman when I was recording blues singers around Centreville in the late sixties. I recorded her gospel music and interviewed Chapman and her family. Impressed by the quality of her music, I returned in 1972 with Judy Peiser and made a documentary film on Chapman and her family entitled Fannie Bell Chapman, Gospel Singer that was produced by the Center for Southern Folklore.
As a folklorist, I was deeply influenced by Chapman. She told me I had “power eyes” and that with help from her I could have the power to heal with my eyes. She said, “I know because I have that same power.”
Chapman told me that she also had the power to control weather and could summon a thunderstorm. While she could do more than heal if she