|Cultural origins||African Americans|
Spirituals (also known as Negro spirituals, Spiritual music, or African-American spirituals) is a genre of music that is "purely and solely the creation" of generations of African Americans,:13,17 a legacy of the transatlantic slave trade—the largest and most inhumane forced migration in recorded human history. While enslaved Africans, who were also forcibly removed to the Caribbean and Latin America during the 350 years of the slave trade, converted to Christianity, it was only in what is now the United States, that spirituals evolved from an interaction between African music and culture and the Christian religion. Prior to the end of the US Civil War and emancipation, spirituals were originally an oral tradition passed from one slave generation to the next. The slave songs, or plantation songs, were religious folks songs that were often rooted in biblical stories, but also described the extreme hardships endured by African Americans who were enslaved from the 17th century until the 1860s. In the nineteenth century, the word "spirituals" referred to these songs. Following emancipation, the lyrics of spirituals were published in printed form. Ensembles such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers, starting in 1871, popularized spirituals bringing them to a wider, even international audience. From its roots in African music, new derivative music genres emerged from the spirituals songcraft.
The term "spirituals" is a 19th century word "used for songs with religious texts created by African slaves in America".
The transatlantic slave trade, which took place over 400 years, was the largest and most inhumane forced migration in recorded human history—most were taken from the West African coast to the Americas. From 1501 through 1867, approximately "12.5 million Africans" from "almost every country with an Atlantic coastline" were kidnapped and coerced into slavery, according to the 2015 Atlas based on about 35,000 slaving voyages. Of these only a percentage arrived in present-day United States. The largest number of enslaved Africans arrived between 1720 and 1780 to British North America. The domestic slave trade that emerged after the United States Congress outlawed the transatlantic African slave trade in 1808 and lasted until the 1860s, destroyed generations of African American families. The American slave trade differed from other slave societies, such as the British Caribbean and Brazil, where most Africans were sent. In the US, there was a "high and sustained natural increase in the slave population for a more than a century and a half—with numbers nearly tripling by the end of the domestic slave trade in the 1860s. Over that time, "approximately 1.2 million men, women, and children, the vast majority of whom were born in America," were displaced with spouses separated from one another, and parents separated from their children. By 1850, most enslaved African Americans were "third-, fourth-, or fifth-generation Americans". In the 1800s, most enslaved people in the British Caribbean and Brazil had been born in Africa, whereas in the United States, they were "generations removed from Africa."
The institution of slavery ended with the conclusion of the US Civil War in 1865. The first enslaved Africans had arrived on current US soil in 1526, making landfall in present-day Winyah Bay, South Carolina in a short-lived colony called San Miguel de Gualdape. They were the first to stage a slave rebellion. In 1619, the first slave ship had carried twenty people from the west central African kingdom of Kongo—to a life of enslavement in what is now, Mexico. The Kingdom of Kongo, at that time stretched over an area of 60,000 miles (97,000 km) in the watershed of the Congo River—the longest river in Africa— and had a population of 2.5 million—was one of the largest African kingdoms. For a brief period, King João I of Kongo, who reigned from 1470 to 1509, had voluntarily converted to Catholicism, and for four centuries—from 1491 to 1570—the kingdom of Kongo had practiced Christianity and was an "independent [and] cosmopolitan realm." The descendants of the rice-plantation enslaved Gullah people—whose country of origin is Sierra Leone—were unique, because they had been much more isolated on the islands off the coast of South Carolina. Gullah spirituals are sung in a creole language that was influenced by African American Vernacular English with the majority of African words coming from the Akan, Yoruba and Igbo.
"The African American spiritual (also called the Negro Spiritual) constitutes one of the largest and most significant forms of American folksong," according to a Library of Congress 2016 article. James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson said that spirituals represented America's only type of folk music.
Spirituals were originally oral, but by 1867 the first "Slave Songbook" was published, tracing the "development of Negro Spirituals and cultural connections to Africa." The 1867 publication included spirituals that were well-known and regularly sung in American churches but whose origins in plantations, had not been acknowledged.
In his 1844 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, an essay on abolition and a memoire, Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895)—a great orator—described slave songs as telling a "tale which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones, loud, long and deep, breathing the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains… Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds." His Narrative, which is the most famous of the stories written by former slaves at that time, is one of the most influential pieces of literature that acted as a catalyst in the early years of the American abolitionist movement, according to the OCLC entry.
In 1993, Arthur C. Jones—a University of Denver Professor in the Musicology, Ethnomusicology and Theory Department, "The Spirituals Project" in 1998 at the university's Lamont School of Music, to preserve and revitalize the "music and teachings of the sacred folk songs called spirituals"—"created and first sung by African Americans in slavery".
Spirituals remain a mainstay particularly in small black churches, often Baptist or Pentecostal, in the deep South.
African influence on spirituals
J.H. Kwabena Nketia, (1921 - 2019) described by the New York Times in 2019, as a "pre-eminent scholar of African music", said in 1973 that there is an important, interdependent, dynamic, and "unbroken conceptual relationship between African and African American music".:7–15
Enslaved African Americans "in the plantation South drew on native rhythms and their African heritage." According to a May 2012 PBS interview, "spirituals were religious folks songs, often rooted in biblical stories, woven together, sung, and passed along from one slave generation to another".[Notes 1][Notes 2][Notes 3]
According to Walter Pitt's 1996 book, spirituals are a musical form that is indigenous and specific to the religious experience African slaves and their descendants in the United States. Pitts said that they were a result of the interaction of music and religion from Africa with music and religion of European origin.:74
In a May 2012 PBS interview, Uzee Brown, Jr. said that spirituals were the "survival tools for the African slave". Brown said that while other similarly-oppressed cultures were "virtually wiped out", the African slave survived because of spirituals by "singing through many of their problems", by creating their own "way of communicating". Enslaved people introduced a number of new instruments to America: the bones, body percussion, and an instrument variously called the bania, banju, or banjar, a precursor to the banjo but without frets. They brought with them from Africa long-standing religious traditions that highlighted the importance of storytelling.[Notes 4][Notes 5]
Evidence of the vital role African music has played in the creation of African American spirituals exists, among other elements, in the use of "complex rhythms" and "polyrhythms" from West Africa.:7–15
Christian psalms and hymns
Spirituals were not simply different versions of hymns or Bible stories, but rather a creative altering of the material; new melodies and music, refashioned text, and stylistic differences helped to set apart the music as distinctly African-American.
According to a McGraw Hill publication for grade school, Christian hymns and songs were very influential on the writing of African-American spirituals, especially those from the First Great Awakening, or "Evangelical Revival"—a series of Christian revivals in the 1730s and 1740s that swept the United Kingdom and its Thirteen Colonies in North America. During that time northern Baptist and Methodist preachers converted black people, including those who were enslaved. In some communities African Americans were accepted into Christian communities as deacons.:19 From 1800 to 1825 enslaved people were exposed to the religious music of camp meetings on the ever-expanding frontier. Spirituals merged stories from the Bible with African music styles. As African religious traditions declined in America in the 18th and 19th centuries, more African Americans began to convert to Christianity. Some called on slave owners to encourage literacy among slaves so they could study the Bible.
Enslaved people were forbidden to speak their native languages, and were generally converted to Christianity. With narrow vocabularies, enslaved people would use the words they did know to translate biblical information and facts from their other sources into song.[Notes 6]
By the 17th century, enslaved Africans were familiar with Christian biblical stories, such as the story of Moses and Daniel, seeing their own stories reflected in them. An Africanized form of Christianity evolved in the slave population with African American spirituals providing a way to "express the community's new faith, as well as its sorrows and hopes."
As Africans were exposed to stories from the Bible, they began to see parallels to their own experiences. The story of the exile of the Jews and their captivity in Babylon, resonated with their own captivity.
The lyrics of Christian spirituals reference symbolic aspects of Biblical images such as Moses and Israel's Exodus from Egypt in songs such as "Michael Row the Boat Ashore". There is also a duality in the lyrics of spirituals. They communicated many Christian ideals while also communicating the hardship that was a result of being an African-American slave. The spiritual was often directly tied to the composer's life. It was a way of sharing religious, emotional, and physical experience through song.
The river Jordan in traditional African American religious song became a symbolic borderland not only between this world and the next. It could also symbolize travel to the north and freedom or could signify a proverbial border from the status of slavery to living free.
Syncopation, or ragged time, was a natural part of spiritual music. The rhythms of Protestant hymns were transformed and the songs were played on African-inspired instruments. During the Civil War, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote down some of the spirituals he heard in camp. "Almost all their songs were thoroughly religious in their tone, ...and were in a minor key, both as to words and music."
Collections of lyrics of the spirituals
African-American spirituals have associations with plantation songs, slave songs, freedom songs, and songs of the Underground Railway and were oral until the end of the US Civil War. Following the Civil War and emancipation, there has been "extensive collection and preservation of spirituals as folk song tradition". The first collection of Negro spirituals was published in 1867, two years after the war had ended. Entitled Slave Songs of the United States, it was compiled by three northern abolitionists—Charles Pickard Ware (1840-1921), Lucy McKim Garrison (1842-1877), William Francis Allen (1830-1889)[Notes 7] The 1867 compilation built on the entire collection of Charles P. Ware, who had mainly collected songs at Coffin's Point, St. Helena Island, South Carolina, home to the African-American Gullah people originally from West Africa. Most of the 1867 book consisted of songs gathered directly from African Americans. By the 1830s at least, "plantation songs", "genuine slave songs", and "Negro melodies", had become extraordinarily popular. Eventually, "spurious imitations" for more "sentimental tastes" were created. The authors noted that "Long time ago", "Near the lake where drooped the willow", and "Way down in Raccoon Hollow" were borrowed from African-American songs. There had been a renewed interest in these songs through the Port Royal Experiment (1861 - ), where newly-freed African American plantation workers successfully took over operation of Port Royal Island plantations in 1861, where they had formerly been enslaved. Northern abolitionist missionaries, educators and doctors came to oversee Port Royal's development. The authors noted that, by 1867, the "first seven spirituals in this collection" were "regularly sung at church".
In 1869, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson published his 1869 memoir Army Life in a Black Regiment in which he included the lyrics of selected spirituals. Higginson had commanded a regiment of former slaves during the Civil War.
Starting in 1871, when the performances of the Fisk Jubilee Singers began touring, created more interest in the "spirituals as concert repertory". By 1872, the Jubilee singers were publishing their own books of songs, which included "The Gospel Train". Their song were performed by other groups, such as the United States Navy Band's Sea Chanters ensemble.
Reverend Alexander Reid had attended a Fisk Jubilee Singers' performance in 1871, and suggested they add several songs to their repertoire. Reid, who had been a superintendent at the Spencerville Academy in Oklahoma in Choctaw Nation territory in the 1850s, had heard two workers enslaved by the Choctaw people, —an African-American couple—Wallace Willis and his wife Minerva—singing "their favorite plantation songs" from their cabin door in the evenings. They had learned the songs in "Mississippi in their early youth.": Reid provided the Jubilee Singers with the lyrics of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", Roll, Jordan, Roll, "The Angels are Coming", "I'm a Rolling", and "Steal Away To Jesus", and others that Willis and his wife had sung.  The Jubilee singers popularized Willis' songs.
In 1916, Harry T. Burleigh (1866 - 1949) published Jubilee Songs of the United States, which made "spirituals available to solo concert singers as art songs for the first time".:102
Dett was a mentor to Edward Boatner (1898–1981), an African American composer who wrote many popular concert arrangements of the spirituals. Boatner and Willa A. Townsend published Spirituals triumphant old and new in 1927. Boatner "maintained the importance of authenticity regarding the collection and transcription of spirituals, but also clearly indentified with the new, stylized and polished ways in which they were arranged and performed".:102
Fisk Jubilee Singers popularized spirituals (1871-2021)
The original Fisk Jubilee Singers, a touring a cappella male and female choir of nine students of the newly established Fisk school in Nashville, Tennessee who were active from 1871 to 1878, popularized Negro spirituals.
The name "jubilee" referred to the "year of jubilee" in the Old Testament—a time of the emancipation of slaves.
On January 9, 1866, shortly after the end of the American Civil War (1861 to May 9, 1865), the American Missionary Association founded the Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, the historically black college. As a school-fundraiser, the Fisk Jubilee Singers had their first tour on what is now called Jubilee Day—October 6, 1871. The first audiences were small, local, and skeptical, but by 1872, they performed at Boston's World Peace Festival and at the White House, and in 1873 they toured Europe.
In their early days, the Jubilee Singers did not sing the slave songs. Sheppard—who also composed and arranged music—explained how slave songs, like those published in the 1867 Slave Songs, had not initially been part of the Singers' repertoire at first; the songs, "were sacred to our parents, who used them in their religious worship and shouted over them." Shephard said that, "It was only after many months that gradually our hearts were opened to the influence of these friends and we began to appreciate the wonderful beauty and power of our songs." Eventually their repertoire began to include these songs.:230
By 1878 the Singers had disbanded. In 1890 the Singers legacy was revived when Ella Sheppard, Moore—one of the original nine Fisk Jubilee Singers—returned to Fisk and began to coach new jubilee vocalists, including John Wesley Work Jr. (1871 – 1925).:253 In 1899, Fisk University president E. M. Cravath put out a call for a mixed (male and female) jubilee singers ensemble that would tour on behalf of the university.:253 The full mixed choir became too expensive to tour, and was replaced by John Work II's male quartet. The quartet received "widespread acclaim" and eventually made a series of best-selling recordings for Victor in December 1909, February 1911, for Edison in December 1911, for Columbia is October 1915 and February 1916, and Starr in 1916.:253 John Work Jr.—also known as John Work II—spent three decades at Fisk University, collecting and promulgating the "jubilee songcraft" of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers and in 1901 he co-published co-published New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers with his brother, Frederick J. Work.
In 1873, Mark Twain, whose father had owned enslaved people, found Fisk singing to be "in the genuine old way" he remembered from childhood. By contrast an anonymous 1881 review in the Peoria Journal said that "they have lost the wild rhythms, the barbaric melody, the passion… [T]hey smack of the North…"
Hampton Singers (1873-)
In 1873, the Hampton Singers formed a group in Hampton, Virginia at what is now known as Hampton University. They were the first ensemble to "rival the Jubilee Singers". With Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882 – 1943) as conductor until 1933, Hampton Singers "earned an international following."
Tuskegee Institute Quartet (1884 -)
The first formal a capella Tuskegee Quartet was organized in 1884 by Booker T. Washington, who was also the founder of the Tuskegee Institute. Since 1881, Washington had insisted that everyone attending their weekly religious services should join in singing African American spirituals. The Quartet was formed to "promote the interest of Tuskegee Institute". In 1909 a new quartet was formed. The singers travelled intermittently traveled until the 1940s. Like the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the Tuskegee Institute Singers sang spirituals in a modified harmonized style.
Spirituals on the concert stage
Harry Burleigh (1866 – 1949)—an African-American classical composer and baritone performed in many concert settings, introduced classically trained artists, such as Antonín Dvořák to African-American spirituals. Burleigh arranged spirituals with a classical form. He coached African-American soloists, such as Marian Anderson, as solo classical singers. Others, such as Roland Hayes and Paul Robeson continued his legacy.:284 It was Burleigh who introduced Antonín Dvořák to African-American music.:131 Some believe that Dvorak was inspired by the spirituals in his Symphony From the New World.
R. Nathaniel Dett (1882 – 1943) is known for his arrangements that incorporated the music and spirit of European Romantic composers with African-American spirituals. In 1918, he said, "We have this wonderful store of folk music—the melodies of an enslaved people" but it will be of no value if it is not used. We must treat spirituals "in such manner that it can be presented in choral form, in lyric and operatic works, in concertos and suites and salon music".:280
Spirituals in contemporary life
The Fisk Jubilee Singers continue to maintain their popularity in the 21st century with live performances in locations such as Grand Ole Opry House in 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2019 Tazewell Thompson presented an cappella musical entitled, Jubilee, that is a tribute to the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
Spirituals remain a mainstay particularly in small black churches, often Baptist or Pentecostal, in the deep South.
Arthur Jones founded "The Spirituals Project" at the University of Denver in 1999 to help keep alive the message and meaning of the songs that had moved from the fields of the South to the concert halls of the North.
Everett McCorvey founded The American Spiritual Ensemble in 1995, a group of about two dozen professional singers who tour performing spirituals in the United States and abroad. The group has produced several CDs, including "The Spirituals", and is the focus of a public broadcasting documentary.
Stylistic origins and qualities
Qualities of the spirituals include mastery of the blending of voices, timing, and intonation.
Spirituals were originally unaccompanied monophonic songs. The tempo in some songs may be slowed down at times—'ritardando—as in the case of "sorrow songs" and/or to showcase the "beauty and blending of the voices".
Along with the "solo call and unison response", songs may include "overlapping layers, and spine-tingling falsetto humming."
Stylistic origins include African music, Christian hymns, Work songs, Field holler, and Islamic music. According to a McGraw Hill publication for grade school, "Spirituals were sung as lullabies and play songs. Some spirituals were adapted as work songs.
Black spirituals "use of microtonally flatted notes, syncopation and counter-rhythms marked by handclapping in black spiritual performances." It "stands out for the singers' striking vocal timbre that features shouting, exclamations of the word "Glory!" and raspy and shrill falsetto tones".
In his 1954 book, Studies in African Music, ethnomusicologist A.M. Jones said that in African music, the "complex interweaving of contrasting rhythmic patterns" was central to African music, just as harmonies were valued in European music. Jones described the drum is the highest expression of rhythms, but they can also be produced through hand-clapping, stick-beating, rattles, and the "pounding of pestles in a mortar".:26[Notes 8]
In the 20th century, composers, such as, Moses Hogan, Roland Carter, Jester Hairston, Brazeal Dennard and Wendell Whalum transformed the "cappella arrangements of spirituals for choruses" beyond its "traditional folk song roots".
Call and response
Many spirituals are in a call-and-response structure, with back-and-forth exchanges between the soloist and the ensemble.
Slave songs were called "Sorrow Songs" by W.E.B. Du Bois in his book, 1903 book,The Souls of Black Folk . Sorrow songs are spirituals, such as, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child," and "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen"—songs that are intense and melancholic—are sung at a slower pace.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers had been so successful that other groups were created to perform similar music. Over time the term "jubilee" was used to refer to other ensembles who sang the original group's repertoire. In the early 1900s jubilee singers also referred to singers who performed gospel music, and hymns as well as spirituals. Examples of these early nineteenth century groups include the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet, the Utica Jubilee Singers, and the Tuskegee Institute Singers.
Jubilee songs, also known as "camp meeting songs," such as and "Fare Ye Well" and "Rocky my soul in the bosom of Abraham" are fast-paced, "rhythmic and often syncopated". Spiritual songs which looked forward to a time of future happiness, or deliverance from tribulation, were often known as 'jubilees.
In some churches, such as the Pentacostal church in the 1910s and 1920s in New Orleans, there was no organ or choir and music was louder, more exuberant and included up tempo spirituals called "jubilees". They "used the drum, the cymbal, the tambourine, and the steel triangle. Everybody in there sang, and they clapped and stomped their feet, and sang with their whole bodies. They had a beat, a rhythm we held on to from slavery days, and their music was so strong and expressive.":52–53
Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist and a former slave said that slave songs awakened him to the dehumanizing character of slavery, "The mere recurrence, even now, afflicts my spirit, and while I am writing these lines, my tears are falling. To those songs I trace my first glimmering conceptions of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds.
In a 2017 PBS Newshour, segment entitled "Singing in Slavery: Songs of Survival, Songs of Freedom" said that, while it is "has not been proven, it is believed"—that "Wade in the Water" was one of the songs associated with the Underground Railroad—a network of secret routes and safe houses used by slaves in the United States to find freedom. warn slaves to get off the trail and into the water to prevent bloodhounds—used by the slavers—from following their trail.:18
Jones described how during the years of the Underground Railroad "already existing spirituals" were employed "clandestinely" as one of the many ways people used in their "multilayered struggle for freedom.":51, 55 He described how coded words could be introduced in the call and response overlap, which only insiders aware of the encrypted message.:51, 55
A collaborative production by Maryland Public Television, Maryland Historical Society, and Maryland State Archives entitled "Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad" had included a section on how songs that many slaves knew had "secret meanings" that they could be "used to signal many things". Certain songs were believed to have contained explicit instructions to fugitive slaves on how to avoid capture and the route to take to successfully make their way to freedom. Other spirituals that some believe have coded messages include "The Gospel Train", "Song of the Free", and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "Follow the Drinking Gourd". James Kelley in his 2008 article said that there is a lack of corroborating sources to prove that there is a coded message in "Follow the Drinking Gourd".
One 1953 article by Sterling Brown said that there are scholars who "believe that when the Negro sang of freedom, he meant only what the whites meant, namely freedom from sin." Brown said that, to an enslaved person freedom would also mean freedom from slavery.  When the enslaved person sings, "I been rebuked, I been scorned; done had a hard time sho's you bawn," he is not only referring to freedom from sin but from physical bondage.  Brown cited Douglass, saying that Canaan stood for Canada; and "over and beyond hidden satire the songs also were grapevines for communications. Harriet Tubman, herself called the Moses of her people, has told us that "Go Down Moses" was tabu in the slave states, but the people sang it nonetheless."
A 2016 Library of Congress article said that Freedom songs and protest songs, such as, Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and Billy Bragg's "Sing their souls back home'" were based on African American spirituals, and that became the musical backdrop of the call for democracy around the globe. Many of the freedom songs, such as "Oh, Freedom!" and "Eyes on the Prize," that defined the Civil rights movement (1954 – 1968) were adapted from some of the early African American spirituals. Some such as, "We Shall Overcome," combined the gospel hymn "I'll Overcome Someday" with the spiritual "I'll Be all right."
In the 1927 anthology, The American Songbag, compiled by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), the American poet and folklorist, he wrote that "Ain' go'n' to study war no mo'" was an example of a spiritual that African Americans used as work songs. He said, that, "As [the singers]] go on, hour by hour, they bring in lines from many other spirituals. The tempo is vital. Never actually monotonous. Never ecstatic, yet steady in its onflow, sure of its pulses. It is a work song-spiritual. War is pronounced "wah" or "waw" as if to rhyme with "saw." Horse is "hawss." And so on with Negro economy of vocables in speech and song.":480–1
Field holler music, also known as Levee Camp Holler music, was an early form of African American music, described in the 19th century. Field hollers laid the foundations for the blues, spirituals, and eventually rhythm and blues. Field hollers, cries and hollers of the enslaved people and later sharecroppers working in cotton fields, prison chain gangs, railway gangs (gandy dancers) or turpentine camps were the precursor to the call and response of African American spirituals and gospel music, to jug bands, minstrel shows, stride piano, and ultimately to the blues, rhythm and blues, jazz and African American music in general.
Rhythm and blues
A 1976 book Stomping the Blues by Albert Murray said that this interaction between Christianity and African-American spirituals occurred only in the United States. Africans who converted to Christianity in other parts of the world, even in the Caribbean and Latin America, did not evolve this particular form.
Sacred music, includes both spirituals and gospel music, which "originated in the black church and has become a globally recognized genre of popular music. In its earliest manifestations, gospel music functioned as an integral religious and ceremonial practice during worship services. Now, gospel music is also marketed commercially and draws on contemporary, secular sounds while still conveying spiritual and religious ideas."
Well-known gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, (1911 – 1972) was one of Gospel music's most prominent defenders. She said that, "Blues are the songs of despair. Gospel songs are the songs of hope. When you sing gospel you have a feeling there's a cure for what's wrong. When you're through with the blues you've got nothing to rest on.":52 Horace Clarence Boyer traced the emergence of Gospel music as a "discrete musical style" to the Deep South in 1906 in Pentecostal churches. Through the Great Migration of African American from the south to the north, especially in the 1930s, gospel songs entered the "mainstream of American popular culture". Gospel music had heyday from 1945 to 1955—the "Golden Age of Gospel."
Gospel Quartets, like the Golden Jubilee Quartet and the Golden Gate Quartet changed the style of spirituals with their innovative, jubilee style which included new harmonies, syncopation with sophisticated arrangements". An example of their music was their performance of "Oh, Jonah!" The Golden Gate Quartet—who were active from 1934 to the late 1940s—performed in the concert From Spirituals to Swing at Carnegie Hall in the late 1930s. Zora Neale Hurston, in her 1938 book The Sanctified Church , criticized what she called "Glee Club style" of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Tuskegee Institute Quartet, and Hampton Singers in the 1930s. She said they were using a style" that was "full of musicians' tricks" that were not authentic to their roots in the original African American spirituals. The authentic spirituals could only be found in the "unfashionable Negro church".
In his 1938 book, White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands, Vanderbilt University's George Pullen Jackson in Nashville drew attention to the existence of a white spiritual genre which differed in many aspects from African American spirituals. Jackson extended the term "spirituals" to a wider range of folk hymnody but this does not appear to have been widespread usage previously. The term, however, has often been broadened to include subsequent arrangements into more standard European-American hymnodic styles, and to include post-emancipation songs with stylistic similarities to the original African American spirituals.
The historian Sylviane Diouf and ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik identify Islamic music as an influence. Diouf notes a striking resemblance between the Islamic call to prayer (originating from Bilal ibn Rabah, a famous Abyssinian African Muslim in the early 7th century) and 19th-century field holler music, noting that both have similar lyrics praising God, melody, note changes, "words that seem to quiver and shake" in the vocal chords, dramatic changes in musical scales, and nasal intonation. She attributes the origins of field holler music to African Muslim slaves who accounted for an estimated 30% of African slaves in America. According to Kubik, "the vocal style of many blues singers using melisma, wavy intonation, and so forth is a heritage of that large region of West Africa that had been in contact with the Arabic-Islamic world of the Maghreb since the seventh and eighth centuries." There was particularly a significant trans-Saharan cross-fertilization between the musical traditions of the Maghreb and the Sahel.
There was a difference in the music performed by the predominantly Muslim Sahelian slaves and the predominantly non-Muslim slaves from coastal West Africa and Central Africa. The Sahelian Muslim slaves generally favored wind and string instruments and solo singing, whereas the non-Muslim slaves generally favored drums and group chants. Plantation owners who feared revolt outlawed drums and group chants, but allowed the Sahelian slaves to continue singing and playing their wind and string instruments, which the plantation owners found less threatening. Among the instruments introduced by Muslim African slaves were ancestors of the banjo. While many were pressured to convert to Christianity, the Sahelian slaves were allowed to maintain their musical traditions, adapting their skills to instruments such as the fiddle and guitar. Some were also allowed to perform at balls for slave-holders, allowing the migration of their music across the Deep South.
- PBS correspondent Bob Faw said this in a Religion & Ethics Newsweekly May 2012 interview with members of the Morehouse College Glee Club—the official choral group of the historically black Morehouse College, in Atlanta, Georgia
- Spirituals originated with the enslaved Africans who were first brought to British colonies in the early 17th century. Slavery was not abolished until 1865 through the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution when all enslaved people were emancipated. See History of slavery in the United States.
- According to a Library of Congress 2016 article, music was central to and permeated every aspect of everyday life and major life events in Africa. Enslaved Africans in America were no longer permitted to worship as Christian colonialists feared "African-infused way of worship". Gatherings had to be conducted in a clandestine manner. Christian colonialist feared "African-infused way of worship". During these meetings, worshipers would sing, chant, dance and sometimes enter ecstatic trances. Along with spirituals, shouts also emerged in the Praise Houses. Shouts begin slowly with the shuffling of feet and clapping of hands (but the feet never cross because that was seen as dancing, which was forbidden within the church). Drums were used as they had been in Africa, for communication. When the connection between drumming, communication, and resistance was eventually made, drums were forbidden.
- According to an October 2000 National Humanities Center online question and answer forum for TeachersServe, "Music was an essential element in communicating identity, shared social mores, traditional customs, and ethnic history. The primary function of the spirituals was as communal songs sung in a religious gathering, performed in a call-response pattern reminiscent of West African traditional religions.
- Several traditions rooted in Africa continue to the present day in African-American spiritual practices. Examples include the "call and response" style of preaching in which the speaker speaks for an interval and the congregation responds in unison in a continual pattern throughout the sermon. Speaking in tongues is also a persistent practice, as is "getting happy." Getting happy involves achieving a trance-like state and can be characterized by anything from jumping in one place repeatedly, running through the sanctuary, raising hands and arms in the air, shouting traditional praise phrases, or being "slain in the spirit" (fainting). In spirituals, there also rose what is known as the "straining preacher" sound where the preacher, during song, literally strains the voice to produce a unique tone. This is used throughout recorded spirituals, blues, and jazz music. The locations and the era may be different; but the same emphasis on combining sound, movement, emotion, and communal interaction into one focus on faith and its role in overcoming struggles, whether as an individual or a people group, remain the same. According to a McGraw Hill publication for grade school, in some places enslaved Africans were permitted, or even encouraged, to hold their own prayer meetings. Because they were unable to express themselves freely in ways that were spiritually meaningful to them, religious services were, at times, the only place enslaved people could legitimately congregate, socialize, and safely express feelings. See Pershey.
- There are debates on various topics related to enslaved African Americans' conversion to Christianity. While some slave owners believed that Christian slaves would be more docile, others came to feel that stories of Moses leading the Israelites out of bondage were counterproductive. Forced conversion only worked to a point since church attendance might be required, but control could not extend to thoughts and feelings. Some enslaved people became Christians voluntarily, either because it helped them endure hardships or because membership may have offered other benefits. See NHC_Q&A_forum_200010.
- Part I of the collection included songs from the South-Eastern Slave States, including South Carolina, Georgia and the Sea Islands. Of these Charles Pickard Ware collecting songs from the Gullah people of Port Royal Islands, South Carolina. These songs including "Roll, Jordan, Roll", "Jehovah, hallelujah, "I hear from heaven to-day", "Blow your trumpet", "Gabriel", "Praise, member", "Wrestle on, Jacob", "The lonesome valley", "I can't stay behind", "Poor Rosy", "The trouble of the world", "There's a meeting here tonight", "Hold your light", "Happy morning", "No man can hinder me", "Lord, remember me", "Not weary yet", "Religion so sweet", "Hunting for the Lord", "Go in the wilderness", "Tell my Jesus" "Morning", "The graveyard, "John, John, of the holy order", "I saw the beam in my sister's eye", "Hunting for a city", "Gwine follow", Lay this body down", "Heaven bell a ring", "Jine 'em", "Rain fall and wet Becca Lawton", "Bound to go", "Michael row the boat ashore", "Sail, o believer", "Rock o' jubilee", "Stars begin to fall", "King Emanuel", "Satan's camp a-fire", "Give up the world", "Jesus on the water-side", "I wish I been dere", "Build a house in paradise", "I know when I'm going home", "I'm a-trouble in de mind", and "Travel on". William Francis Allen collected these songs on Port Royal Islands: "Archangel open the door", "My body rock 'long fever", "Bell da ring", "Pray all de member", "Turn, sinner, turn o'", "My army cross over", "Join the angel band", "I an' Satan had a race", "Shall I die?", "When we do meet again", "The white marble stone", "I can't stand the fire", "Meet, o Lord", "Wait, Mr. Mackright", "Early in the morning", "Hail Mary", "No more rain fall for wet you", "I want to go home", "Good-bye brother", "Fare ye well", "Many thousand go", "Brother Moses gone", "The sin-sick soul", "Some valiant soldier", "Hallelu, hallelu", "Children do linger", "Good-bye", "Lord, make me more patient", "The day of judgement", "The resurrection morn", "Nobody knows the trouble I've had", "Who is on the Lord's side", "Hold out to the end", "Come go with me", "Every hour in the day", "In the mansions above", "Shout on, children", "Jesus, won't you come by-and-bye!", and "Heave away". Part II included songs from the Northern Seaboard Slave States, including Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, such as "Wake up, Jacob", "On to glory", "Just new", "Shock along, John", "Round the corn, Sally", "Jordan's mills", "Sabbath has no end", "I don't feel weary", "The hypocrite and the concubine", "O shout away", "O'er the crossing", "Rock o' my soul", "We will march through the valley", "What a trying time", "Almost over", "Don't be weary, traveller", "Let God's saints come in", "The golden altar", "The winter", and "The heaven bells". Part III includes songs from the Inland Slave States, including Tennessee, Arkansas, and the Mississippi River, such as "The gold band", The good old way", I'm going home", Sinner won't die no more", "Brother, guide me home", "Little children, then won't you be glad?", "Charleston gals", "Run, n*, run", "I'm gwine to Alabamy". Part IV includes songs from the Gulf States, including Florida and Louisiana: Miscellaneous: "My father, how long?", "I'm in trouble", "O Daniel", "O brothers, don't get weary", "I want to join the band", "Jacob's ladder", "Pray on", "Good news, member", "I want to die like-a Lazarus die", "Away down in Sunbury", "This is the trouble of the world", "Lean on the Lord's side", "There are all my father's children", "The old ship of Zion", "Come along, Moses", "The social band", "God got plenty o' room", "You must be pure and holy", "Belle Layotte", "Remon", "Caroline", "Calinda", "Lolotte", and "Musieu Bainjo."
- A.M. Jones' (1889–1980) experience was in Zambia during the early 1900s. He was missionary and musicologist.
These notable spirituals were written or widely adopted by African Americans:
- Bosom of Abraham
- Children, Go Where I Send Thee
- Deep River
- Dem Bones
- Didn't It Rain
- Do Lord Remember Me
- Down by the Riverside
- Down in the River to Pray
- Every Time I Feel the Spirit
- Ezekiel Saw the Wheel
- Follow the Drinkin' Gourd
- Go Down Moses
- Go Tell It on the Mountain
- Golden Slippers
- Gospel Plow
- The Gospel Train
- He's Got the Whole World in His Hands
- I Shall Not Be Moved
- I'm So Glad
- Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho
- Lord, I Want to Be a Christian
- Michael Row the Boat Ashore
- Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
- Roll, Jordan, Roll
- Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down
- Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
- Song of the Free
- Steal Away
- Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
- There Is a Balm in Gilead
- This Little Light of Mine
- Wade in the Water
- We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder
- Were You There
- When the Saints Go Marching In
- African-American music
- Deep River Boys
- Gospel music
- History of slavery in the United States
- Original Nashville Students
- Religious music
- Songs of the Underground Railroad
- Johnson, James Weldon; Johnson, J. Rosamond (2009). The Books of American Negro Spirituals. Da Capo Press. pp. 13, 17 – via Google Scholar.
The Spirituals are purely and solely the creation of the American Negro..." "When it came to the use of words, the maker of the song was struggling as best he could under his limitations in language and, perhaps, also under a misconstruction or misapprehension of the facts in his source of material, generally the Bible." "...this music which is America's only folk music...Full text
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The transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in history, and undeniably one of the most inhumane. The extensive exodus of Africans spread to many areas of the world over a 400-year period and was unprecedented in the annals of recorded human history. As a direct result of the transatlantic slave trade, the greatest movement of Africans was to the Americas — with 96 per cent of the captives from the African coasts arriving on cramped slave ships at ports in South America and the Caribbean Islands. From 1501 to 1830, four Africans crossed the Atlantic for every one European, making the demographics of the Americas in that era more of an extension of the African diaspora than a European one. The legacy of this migration is still evident today, with large populations of people of African descent living throughout the Americas.
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Sacred music, which includes spirituals and gospel music, illustrates the central role that music plays in African American spiritual and religious life. The earliest form of black musical expression in America, spirituals were based on Christian psalms and hymns and were merged with African music styles and secular American music forms. Spirituals were originally an oral tradition and imparted Christian values while also defining the hardships of slavery.
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Between 1501 and 1867, the transatlantic slave trade claimed an estimated 12.5 million Africans and involved almost every country with an Atlantic coastline." This 2015 publication provides an atlas of this "350-year history of kidnapping and coercion". The Atlas, which is based on the online database "with records on nearly 35,000 slaving voyages—roughly 80 percent of all such voyages ever made" and has "nearly 200 maps...that explore every detail of the African slave traffic to the New World.
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- Oh, Jonah!
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- Ball, Edward, Slaves In The Family, Ballantine Books, New York 1998. See chapter 17 which references the Society for Preservation of Spirituals.
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- The Performing Arts Encyclopedia on the Library of Congress web portal contains many examples of digitized recordings and sheet music of spirituals.
- The Performing Arts Encyclopedia also houses a special digitized American choral music collection which features arrangements of spirituals by composers like Henry T Burleigh and R Nathaniel Dett.* Work, John W., compiler (1940), American Negro Songs and Spirituals: a Comprehensive Collection of 230 Folk Songs, Religious and Secular, with a Foreword. New York: Bonanza Books. N.B.: Includes commentary on the repertory and the words with the music (harmonized) of the spirituals and other songs anthologized.
- Sweet Chariot: the story of the spirituals
- Fisk Jubilee Singers
- Marian Anderson: A Life in Song
- Historical Notes on African American melodies, including 75 African American spirituals with downloadable arrangements for solo instrument
- Free Gospel sheet music
- The Spirituals Database, searchable discography of spirituals for solo voice