Tuned to the Spirit: Photographs from the Sacred Steel Community


Most often identified with country and western bands, steel guitar is almost unheard of in African American churches–except for the House of God and the Church of the Living God, where it has been part of Pentecostal worship since the 1930s. A friend introduced folklorist, photographer, and media producer Robert Stone to musicians and congregations in Florida that utilize the steel guitar, and his first audio recordings of this “sacred steel” guitar musical tradition were released in the 1990s. They immediately created an international roots music sensation that continues to endure to this day.

With the passion, skill, and unique voice they brought to the instruments, these musicians profoundly impressed Stone so much so that he began to document the tradition elsewhere through both sound recordings and photographs. Organized by the Arhoolie Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the documentation, preservation, and celebration of regional roots music and its makers, Tuned to the Spirit offers an elegant and deeply respectful portrait of music-making and worship in faith communities that are set apart by their embrace of the electric steel guitar as a primary instrument of praise.

The exhibition includes introductory text, thirty-one photographs with extended photo captions, as well as video and audio recordings that offer visitors an intimate view of this unique tradition. The passionately played music is beloved among fans of American roots music and admired by folklorists, ethnomusicologists, and other scholars, which offers a plentiful amount of public programming and education opportunities.

Stone is a rare outsider who has gained the trust of members and musicians inside the church, and one who uses two decades of research, interviews, and fieldwork to tell the story of a vibrant musical tradition that straddles sacred and secular contexts. His sensitive portrayal of this community attests to the ongoing importance of musical traditions in African-American life and worship.

“When I first heard Bob Stone’s recordings of sacred steel music, it was like discovering a marvelous, magical world—the artists had a deep soul and power like nothing recorded since the golden ages of blues, gospel, and soul. Seeing these photographs, I am reminded that the music was part of a far larger world and am forever grateful to Stone for preserving so much beauty, dignity, and passion.”

– Elijah Wald, author of Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues

Resulting from nearly three decades of close interaction with these worship communities, Tuned to the Spirit presents images that portray music making and worship among House of God, Keith Dominion and Church of the Living God, Jewell Dominion congregants from Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and New York.

About the Arhoolie Foundation

The Arhoolie Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to the documentation, preservation, and celebration of regional roots music and its makers. The Foundation seeks to broaden public awareness of our diverse music history, support the vitality of living traditions, and reinforce the value and sustainability of community-based cultures. The Arhoolie Foundation stems from the work of founder Chris Strachwitz and his seminal independent record label, Arhoolie Records. In 2016, Smithsonian Folkways acquired Arhoolie Records and continues to distribute the Arhoolie catalog worldwide.

About the artist

Robert Stone is based in Gainesville, Florida. In 2011, the Florida Department of State honored him with the Florida Folk Heritage Award for his work in documenting and presenting the state’s folk culture. He is the author of Sacred Steel: Inside an African American Steel Guitar Tradition and Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus! Photographs from the Sacred Steel Community. His photographs have been featured in solo and group exhibitions and published in Newsweek, the New York Times, Forum, Living Blues, Guitar Player, Sing Out! and other print media. One of his sacred steel photos and an excerpt from the Arhoolie Foundation’s Sacred Steel documentary video are exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

Read More

Tour Schedule

Tuned to the Spirit: Photographs from the Sacred Steel Community is touring November 2024 through October 2029. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

Exhibition Details

31 print photographs augmented by video and audio

  • Content

    Fee Includes:
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Gallery Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    The Arhoolie Foundation

  • Organized By

    The Arhoolie Foundation and ExhibitsUSA

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee


  • In-Region Rental Fee


  • Duration

    7-Week Display

  • Shipping

    Common Carrier

  • Running Feet

    Approx. 95 ft

  • Square Feet

  • Security


  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    1 Estimated

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.