Anna Cooper vs. J.S. Bach

In a 2014 bracket quirk, Celebrity Blogger Heidi Shott is shepherding her "Killer B's" through the Saintly Sixteen this week. Bach, Bedell, and Brooks are all doing battle over the next few days. Today we begin Heidi Week with J.S. Bach taking on Anna Cooper in a contest between an activist and a musician. One key to this contest will be the critical bassoonist vote. Will they rally behind a fellow musician or take umbrage with one of their own once being called a "nanny-goat bassoonist?"

Yesterday, in a tight race, Harriet Beecher Stowe managed to hold off Alcuin 53% to 47% and will face the winner of Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet in the Elate Eight.

Don't forget, you can always find links to the match-ups of the previous rounds on the Bracket page. Can't remember where Anna Cooper grew up? Need a reminder about the number of children J.S. Bach sired? Go look it up and become a better informed Lent Madness voter.

PS. Your shoelaces are untied.

unnamedAnna Cooper

Anna Julia Cooper -- the daughter of an enslaved women and a white slave master – was an educator and tireless advocate for the rights, dignity, and opportunities of women and people of color during the early twentieth century. Anna's cause was not only about empowering women, it was also about ensuring the dignity of the entire human race as a reflection of God’s likeness. Nevertheless, she recognized that black women had a unique perspective on the matter because of their sex and race. As she explained,

The colored woman feels that woman's cause is one and universal; and that not till the image of God, whether in parian or ebony, is sacred and inviolable; not till race, color, sex, and condition are seen as the accidents, and not the substance of life; not till the universal title of humanity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is conceded to be inalienable to all; not till then is woman's lesson taught and woman's cause won -- not the white woman's, nor the black woman's, nor the red woman's, but the cause of every man and of every woman who has writhed silently under a mighty wrong.

She fearlessly chastised Christians for being complacent about injustice and advocated for greater recognition of the immeasurable value of women. In her well-known work, A Voice from the South, she wrote:

The earnest well-trained Christian young woman, as a teacher, as a home-maker, as wife, mother, or silent influence even, is as potent a missionary agency among our people as is the theologian; and I claim that at the present stage of our development in the South she is even more important and necessary.

Never one to back down from a challenge, she had pursued the “gentlemen’s” course of study at Oberlin College over the more genteel program for women. After many years as a teacher, principal, and advocate, at the age of 57, she adopted her nephew’s five children while simultaneously working toward her PhD.  (So, yes, we know you just celebrated your 80th birthday Gloria Steinem, but Anna Cooper could run circles around you. Did you get a PhD at 67? I don’t think so).

In a time when women were expected to be quiet and people of color were threatened with violence, Anna refused to succumb to fear or comfort. Instead, she relied upon education and Christian compassion over violence, a lesson from which the short-tempered, bassoon-fighting Bach could have benefited. (So much for turning the other cheek, eh?)

Anna died in 1964 at the age of 105. In 2009, the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond, Virginia, opened in her honor and provides a faith-based education to students of limited means.

-- Maria Kane

unnamedJohann Sebastian Bach

Over the years I’ve known many 18 year-old males and, indeed, felt a great fondness for a number of them, but I can assure you that I don’t recall one -- even the musicians among them -- ever saying anything like this: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul."

Still, despite the odds, such were the words uttered by Johann Sebastian Bach, a young church organist in Arnstadt, Germany, in 1703. Indeed, Bach signed hundreds of his church compositions and some of his secular works with the initials S.D.G., an abbreviation for the Latin term Soli Deo Gloria meaning “Glory to God alone.”

While many of the saints who find their way into the bracket have left behind theological treatises, sermons, devotional poetry, and other writings, Bach left behind little written work to demonstrate his faithfulness. David Mendel argues in The Bach Reader, “For the expression of emotion, however, Bach hardly needed to resort to words. The focus of his emotional life was undoubtedly in religion, and in the service of religion through music...That his church music was designed to deepen the worship of God and to embellish His service need not be emphasized.”

It is not just Bach’s many biographers who see the hand of God in how Bach offered his gifts to the world. Words of praise from other composers, contemporary through the present day, abound. Claude Debussy said famously, “And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity — on each page we discover things which we thought were born only yesterday, from delightful arabesques to an overflowing of religious feeling greater than anything we have since discovered.”

Faithful Christian and musical genius though he was, Bach seems to have admitted to a few human foibles. His short comic opera on the pleasures of coffee-drinking, Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Be still, stop chattering), was performed regularly at a coffee house in Leipzig. We have record of two other of his habits -- a penchant for smoking tobacco and writing poetry -- in a collection he dedicated to his second wife, Anna Magdalena, in "The Second Little Clavier Book.” One verse reads:

How oft it happens when one’s smoking:
The stopper’s missing from its shelf,
And one goes with one’s finger poking
Into the bowl and burns oneself.
If in the pipe such pain doth dwell,
How hot must be the pains of Hell.

A bit of a wag, Bach once said, “It's easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.” But he also said, “Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.”


-- Heidi Shot


Anna Cooper vs. J.S. Bach

  • Anna Cooper (54%, 2,717 Votes)
  • J.S. Bach (46%, 2,341 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,056

Loading ... Loading ...



* indicates required

Recent Posts



179 comments on “Anna Cooper vs. J.S. Bach”

    1. Bach's saintly imperfections as well as his heavenly music resonate with me.

    2. Hard to recall that not everyone truly appreciates real music. But it is what it is.

  1. AAARRRGGHHHHH!!!!! This was supposed to be an easy one. Why, oh why, must the choices be soooooooooooooooooooo hard.

    In the end, I chose Bach for how his music speaks to the Glory of God for the ages. Long after I have left this earth, people will hear his music and turn to the divine.

    1. I totally agree w/ Ellen Lincourt. Very difficult choice and I chose Bach for the same reasons. However, I'd love to learn more about Anna Cooper.

  2. Bach's music is fabulous but the other things about his life leave me unimpressed esp 2 wives and 20 children. Anna on however blows me away with everything she did! Gotta go with Anna

    1. Wasn't Bach's fault his first wife died! (most of his kids were with his second wife so he didn't wear her out that way)...and the children ( supported by his music BTW--there was good reason for his ridiculous productivity!) were certainly a musical legacy in their own right. Anna IS amazing, but Bach is still evangelizing today, and tomorrow as another commenter has said. And music crosses all linguistic a Bach - Gallaudet pairing would leave me in a quandry.

  3. Yay for the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal middle school in Richmond! Every student there receives a full tuition scholarship. And they have a "school dog," a sweet black lab named Anna.

    1. I agree! Someone mentioned that. Bach is still evangelizing today by his wonder music. I would add that Anna is doing the same by offering hope to the future through education and Bringing Christian understanding to those who might not have had access otherwise. My vote is for her!

    1. God calls each of us to a particular ministry. One is not higher than another.

  4. Justice and the moral arc of the universe versus the transcendent sublime. Oh, dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What to do?

    1. Johann Sebastian Bach: A great musician, a good Dad, and a Lutheran (Garrison Keillor). From a fellow Lutheran.

    1. Anna left more to the world? Perhaps better said that Anna and J.S. Bach left different -- but great -- things to the world. A shame if today doesn't end up 50%-50%.

    2. Bach left some nice music. One could also say that Francis founded a nice monastic order. The reality is that for those who appreciate his works, no explanation is necessary, and for those who do not, no explanation will suffice. Like it or not, we live in a world where most people simply don't appreciate Bach. They have never been taught appreciation of serious music, and have no idea what they are missing.

  5. A fairer race would have been Anna versus Harriet.......Have to go with Bach..........SDG!

  6. Tough choice indeed, but the message of being who you are and believing that God will use you beyond any limits imposed by self or society feels like the voice I need to listen to.

  7. Artists change the world, too, and can remind us why life is worth living. Bach lived his faith, too. His vocation was music. Bach for the Golden Halo!!!

  8. I've changed my vote in my head many times, but then played "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded" (Kings College Choir version), so cast an emotional vote for JS Bach. Ah, the glory!
    This year's LM is making me feel very, very bipolar. I frequently want to vote for both candidates!

    1. I agree, lots of tough matchups! But here it is Anna Cooper all the way. I LOVE Bach but she had way too many obstacles to overcome and persevered in the real world while Bach lived in a cocoon and comfort. In terms of learning life's lessons from these saints, it is Anna because everyone can emulate her, but only Bach could be Bach.

      1. Who was "more saintly' is certainly a tough choice; but in the interest of accuracy, Bach also had many obstacles to overcome, and by no means did he live in a cocoon. He was jailed, fired, lost his beloved first wife while he was away, and had a job application (the Brandenburg Concertos) rejected. Then there was Leipzig.

  9. A very tough choice today. Just wanted to add that there's no reason to make digs at Gloria Steinem, who has done amazing things in her life for the betterment of all. Comparisons are often odious. J.S. Bach was great; Anna Cooper was great; and so is Gloria Steinem (I give thanks that you are well and with us and at the beginning of your 81st year. Amen).

    1. Yes, this. Neither Anna Cooper nor Gloria Steinem's work is less, or less worthy of being celebrated, because it was not exactly like the other's. Putting down one great woman in order to celebrate another does nothing to advance either feminism or the Gospel.

  10. My oh my oh my...Such a choice! Sticking with Anna today. Love JS so much but this second look at Anna has moved me with thoughts of bravery and devotion and determination to be a faithful disciple no matter the odds.

  11. When they sent Voyager up into space with the recording of human voices, someone said that we should just send a recording of Bach's work, but added that it might seem like bragging.
    I'm voting Bach for his devotion and God-given, God-glorifying talent. Sorry, Anna.

  12. Killer B's ... I immediately thought of a band at B.B. King's in Memphis: Miss Ruby and the Killer Bees ... but that's a whole other story ... thanks for the memory! Good times. Now on to Anna and Bach ...

  13. I simply must correct a previous commenter.

    According to contemporary English sources, the angels in Heaven do *not* in fact sing Bach, but rather they play electric guitar like Mark Knopfler.

    The Very Irreverend Douglas Adams testifies in So Long, And Thanks For All the Fish (1984) that "Mark Knopfler has an extraordinary ability to make a Schecter Custom Stratocaster hoot and sing like angels on a Saturday night, exhausted from being good all week and needing a stiff drink."

    Anna Cooper was born in dire straits, and with five kids and a PhD thesis to write she must often have been exhausted from being good all week, so she's got my vote today!

          1. You are naughty to bring up Fred Rogers, who cannot be nominated, as you well know.

      1. Hey, if we are adding Saints to the Calendar via the Lent Madness comments, I want a spot for Alan Turing. We need a LGBT saint and none of Lent Madness would be possible without Turring's work.

  14. Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Anna Cooper- halos for them all!

  15. After listening to a few measures of .... Well, nearly anything JSB wrote...he gets not only my vote here but the Golden Halo for this year. Try Glen Gould with the well tempered whatchamacallit.

  16. Just a thought. How about listing the contenders in alphabetical order by last name (or only name)? That way people might actually read all of the info instead of feeling like there is a subtle push towards the more recent individual?

  17. I couldn't choose on merit - how could I?! So I went with consciousness-raising. Bach is universally loved and his work continues to transform listeners, but Anna's work is far from done, so she gets my vote.

  18. I have to think of today as win-win--two great souls using their different gifts to glorify God and reshape Christianity. I'm going Bach. I tried to find a quote I thought came from him but instead found this quote about him that expresses his Halo-worthiness. Philosopher Alain de Botton said, "Most contemporary music is about love between two people. What makes Bach's music particularly striking is that it's about the love of God. This should present a hurdle to someone who, like me, doesn't believe in God — but it doesn't.

    "What I appreciate in Bach is his ability to suggest to me what a belief in God feels like. His music seems to me to be about devotion to a perfect ideal — something purer, better, higher..."

    - See more at:

  19. I do not know how in the world to break the tie between these two saints. Bach's enduring music speaks for itself.... I was all set to vote for him, till I read in Anna Cooper's blurb, "The earnest well-trained Christian young woman, as a teacher, as a home-maker, as wife, mother, or silent influence even, is as potent a missionary agency among our people as is the theologian.. . ." That hit me very hard, as right now, I'm trying to get used to being an empty-nester, and wondering where my 30 years of being a homemaker, wife and mother takes me in this next part of my life. Cooper's words are very, very comforting and inspiring. And I love what she did for "the least of these."

  20. There is something wrong with the page today. I refreshed the page and it gave me another chance to vote.
    I'm very tempted, but....I hope this isn't an April Fool's joke.

  21. Agreed, really hard choice and Anna is the obvious one. But not everyone has the inner strength to take on what Anna did. Some can only use the talents God gave them and work less spectacularly amidst their other short-comings. That might be me. I went with Bach.

  22. Behold! A bit of a rant followed by a benign observation:

    One of us faults Bach for having had two wives and twenty children? Do you think that he did not grieve at the death of his first wife? Or at the death of each child that did not survive childhood? It was the first half of the 18th Century, for God's sake! It was necessary to have a good number of children that at least some would survive to adulthood. And women died often of childbirth. Not the 21st Century or even the 20th. Bach loved his family and worked hard to sustain them. He served two major churches at the same time as music director and ran a choir school and sought out and rehearsed orchestra members. The bio did not mention his great compositions such as the B-Minor Mass or the St. Matthew Passion or the Well Tempered Keyboard or a great number of works for the organ that are well known world-wide or the fact that he composed a cantata for each Sunday of a three year cycle (about a third of which are lost to us). I, too, like to listen to Bach's music, and when I do it changes my life, again and gain. Now: when are we going to get around to adding Mozart to the calendar of Saints, given that we already have Bach and Handel?

    For whatever it's worth, for the third time in a row we are preferring an American, recently declared a Saint by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. I don't think this reflects a parochialism so much as a sign of what concerns us deeply and rightly at the present time in our society, namely "the dignity of every human being" with regard to full acceptance and equal opportunity regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. As this game moves towards its final round, perhaps we indirectly learn more and more about ourselves from the voting patterns, patterns which in part were influenced by the Archbishops' initial choices and pairings of candidates.

    1. I had a bit of a rant too. I would add that Bach's music did add to the dignity of every human being and brought beauty into a world that is too often anything bu beautiful. I searched Bach & charity - over 4 million hits. I'd say he's still helping those in need and the church's ministry through use of his music for fundraisers and more.

      1. I teach in community college and see the results of our unfair educational system and its legacy everyday. It is so nice that some of you lead this marvellous cocooned existence where you are only concerned that you experience God in an appropriate manner. I think we are also called to do justice and love our neighbors as ourselves. Anna Cooper certainly worked to accomplish both of those things over a long time. I vot for Anna Cooper because I vote for doing justice.

        1. Intended or not, it looks like you hit the reply to my comment, so I must ask. Cocooned as when I worked in the housing projects protecting others at the risk of my own life or when I served as a missionary in South Dakota living with Native Americans in the poorest counties in our nation? Or, maybe you refer to when I hated God because of the pain I experienced in my seriously dysfunctional family growing up? Likely none of this, because you don't know me or what I think - never mind others. I can't speak for them, but seriously, whether directed at me or Robert, or another, I find your comments rather less than charitable. Being for justice is great and a biblical value, but so is mercy toward others. Like it or not, corporate and individual worship is part of our call as Christians (loving God) as well, but I don't see anyone saying they are only concerned with experiencing God in an appropriate manner. Bach's music still has evangelical value (in the sense of the preaching of the Christian Gospel) centuries later. That's what I hear as the corps of Robert's commentary. It takes all of us with our varied gifts to make the church and help usher in the kingdom of God. you aren't wrong for voting for Anna Cooper, but no one is wrong for voting for Bach either. It is just a game after all, and they are both saints. And by the way, I serve in a low liturgical congregation in a denomination that traditional holds being "only concerned" with worshiping God in "an appropriate manner" a symptom of adiaphora, matters not regarded as essential to faith.

        2. I have a law degree and an MD and wanted to work for justice in the health care system by advocating for people. I became disabled so I can no longer do that the way I wanted to. I still try to write and comment in that area, that is a slow process though. I also have written on the Dred Scott decision. Just exactly how am I cocooned? Sorry, but Anna is only one of many who have worked for justice. Bach and his music, on the other hand, have uniquely impacted church music and the church. His music has consoled and uplifted and transformed millions over several centuries and will continue to do so for all time. And it does not matter what denomination you, or what kind of church music. To repeat a quote from Martin Luther that I posted elsewhere on this thread: "Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us." Indeed, sacred music empowers us to do justice and to show mercy and to walk with God! Rather I think that all too many here, considering the vote, really do not understand Bach's contribution to all mankind!

    2. I certainly agree with your rant. Especially the part where you said that we are preferring American, recently declared saints. I decided to vote for Bach, and as I was doing so, I said that I knew Anna Cooper would "win" because she is the more contemporary of the two which does seem to be the trend.

    3. Yes, well said. Almost all the contests are going to the relatively contemporary, American, social activist saints. How on earth can people say that Bach didn't "live" his faith?! Seems that a "saint" has to fit our own parochial view of what righteousness is.

  23. If anyone else were in competition with Anna Cooper today, she would get my vote. But Bach -- God broke the mold after She created Bach. It is said that "the angels play Bach for God, Mozart for themselves" (by no less an authority than the author of Stars in a Dark World, The Rev. John-Julian Swanson, OJN). The angels definitely do not play electric guitars! (If you have to plug it into an electrical outlet, it's an appliance, not a musical instrument.)

    1. Karl Barth also made the "angels play for Bach / for Mozart" remark, but it need not be copying one from the other.

      1. Indeed not -- great people read other great people, remember what they wrote and frequently quote them.

  24. Talk about tough. A student in our county History Day competition did a really wonderful performance entry on Anna Julia Cooper and will be going on to the state competition. In spite of the coincidence and my admiration for someone who fought for rights and education for all, I still had to go for Bach. His music gives glory to God and still inspires me.