What Is A Slave Spiritual

Aspiritual is a genre of religious folksong linked with the enslavement of African-Americans in the American South. The songs became increasingly popular in the latter few decades of the eighteenth century, leading up to the 1860s, when legalized slavery was abolished. The African American spiritual (also known as the Negro Spiritual) is one of the most popular and influential types of American folk music.

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“Swinglow, sweet chariot,” composed by Wallis Willis, and “Deep down in my heart” are two well-known spirituals. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritualsongs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,” according to the King James Bible translation of Ephesians 5:19.

The style originated in the eighteenth century with informal gatherings of African slaves in “praise houses” and outdoor meetings known as “brusharbor meetings,” “bush meetings,” or “camp meetings.”

Participants would sing, chant, dance, and occasionally enter ecstatic trances at the sessions.

The “ring scream,” a shuffling circular dance to chanting and handclapping that was popular among early plantation slaves, is also the source of spirituals. “Jesus Leads Me All the Way,” sung by Reverend Goodwin and the Zion Methodist Church congregation and recorded by Henrietta Yurchenco in 1970, is an example of a spiritual sung in this way.

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Music was vital to people's lives in Africa, with music making pervading significant life events and daily routines. The white colonists of North America, on the other hand, were horrified and disapproved of the slaves' African-infused form of religion, which they thought to be beidolatrous and untamed. As a result, the gatherings were frequently prohibited and had to be held in secret.

In the seventeenth century, the African population in the American colonies was first introduced to Christianity.

At first, the religion's acceptance was slow. Slaves, on the other hand, were attracted by Biblical themes that had similarities to their own lives, and they developed spirituals that repeated biblical stories about Daniel and Moses. Spirituals were used to communicate the community's new religion, as well as its sufferings and hopes, as Africanized Christianity took hold of the slave population.

Spirituals are usually sung in a call-and-response format, with a leader improvising a line of lyrics and a chorus of singers offering a firm, unison refrain. Freeform slides, turns, and rhythms abound in the vocal style, making it difficult for early spiritual publishers to adequately capture them.

Many spirituals, also referred to as “sorrow songs,” are powerful, sluggish, and depressing. Slaves' difficulties are described in songs like “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” and “Nobody knows da trouble I've seen,” which identify Jesus Christ's suffering. Other spirituals are happier. They're called “jubilees” or “camp meetingsongs” because they're quick, rhythmic, and syncopated. “Rocky mysoul” and “Fare Ye Well” are two examples.

Spirituals are also often understood as codified protest songs, with songs like Wallis Willis' “Steal Away to Jesus” being viewed as incitements to flee slavery by some observers. Because the Underground Railroad of the mid-nineteenth century employed railroad terminology as a code for guiding slaves to freedom, songs like “I got myticket” are frequently thought to have been a code for escape. Because aiding slaves to freedom was prohibited, hard evidence is difficult to come by. “Go down, Moses,” a spiritual used by Harriet Tubman to identify herself to slaves who might desire to move north, was undoubtedly employed as a code for escape to freedom.

In his book My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), Frederick Douglass, a nineteenth-century abolitionist author and former slave, wrote of singing spirituals during his years in bondage: “A keen observer might have detected something more than a hope of reaching heaven in our repeated singing of ‘O Canaan, sweet Canaan, I am bound for the land of Canaan.' We intended to travel north, and north was our Canaan.”

What are the 3 types of spirituals?

Spirituals are an oral tradition that arose from the blending of African and Christian cultures on American plantations. Spirituals, which are based on hymns, usually employ call and response and can be divided into three categories: verse only, verse plus refrain, or refrain simply. Spirituals, like Gullah music, feature syncopated rhythms.

Spirituals became popularized in the 1860s and 1890s through the performance of concert arrangements based on the folk heritage described above. Several musical modifications were made during this shift, including the introduction of four-part harmony, the replacement of dialect with Standard English, and the reduction of clapping and dancing. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were the most well-known group to popularize these prepared performance spirituals. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were founded in 1866 to collect cash for Fisk University, a school for freed slaves. Their popularity grew to the point where they were mocked in minstrel shows.

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“Wade in the Water,” a traditional spiritual adapted by Dr. Carl Wells, Director of the University of South Carolina Gospel Choir, and recorded during their annual Festival of Spirituals in November 2015, is an example of this. “Wade in the Water was a double entendre, as is the case with many of the spirituals,” writes Dr. Wells of this piece. He goes on to argue that the song's purpose is “rather, it was used by slaves who were located on the plantation as a means of advising an escaped slave to head for the waters since the slave master was coming after him with the hounds,” rather than a portrayal of a baptism.

Dr. Carl Wells' arrangement of “Wade In The Water” was performed at the 2015 Festival of Spirituals. The University of South Carolina Gospel Choir, directed by Dr. Carl Wells, performed this piece.

Drums were not allowed on plantations because they may be used as a means of communication, as noted on the Gullah tradition page. “As a double entendre, the slaves began utilizing their songs as a Morse code designed to talk about freedom and the under-ground railroad,” explains Dr. Wells. The male voices are heard first in this version of Wade in the Water. Their part of the arrangement was created to look like African drums and sound like them. In this work, the melody is carried by female vocals.”

Spirituals, blues, and hymns from various traditions impacted African American Gospel music, which first appeared in the 1930s. Though Gospel is a broad phrase that encompasses a wide range of popular spiritual music from a variety of groups, Black Gospel is the sort most commonly identified with the name today. The call and response framework, as well as blue notes, are used in Gospel music, as they are in Spirituals and Gullah music. Gospel has both spiritual and secular elements, as well as improvisation. The Fisk Jubilee Singers and other secular organizations that sang spirituals are part of the progression from spirituals to gospel music. During the 1940s and 1950s, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was a key figure in the marketing and growth of the genre. She had a contract with Columbia Records and was frequently featured on national television and in performance halls. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who famously mixed gospel with jazz guitar, was another singer who popularized the genre in the 1940s.

What is the oldest Negro spiritual?

Plantation songs, slave songs, freedom songs, and Underground Railway songs are all examples of African-American spirituals, which were originally oral until the end of the US Civil War. There has been “significant collection and preservation of spirituals as folk music heritage” since the Civil War and emancipation. In 1867, two years after the war ended, the first collection of black spirituals was published. It was composed by three northern abolitionists, Charles Pickard Ware (1840-1921), Lucy McKim Garrison (1842-1877), and William Francis Allen (1842-1877), and named Slave Songs of the United States (1830-1889) The 1867 collection was based on Charles P. Ware's full collection, which he had primarily collected in Coffin's Point, St. Helena Island, South Carolina, home of the African-American Gullah people who originated in West Africa. The majority of the songs in the 1867 book were collected directly from African Americans. “Plantation tunes,” “real slave songs,” and “Negro melodies” had all become extremely popular by the 1830s. “Spurious imitations” for greater “sentimental tastes” were eventually developed. “Long time ago,” “Near the lake where drooped the willow,” and “Way down in Raccoon Hollow” were all taken from African-American melodies, according to the authors. The Port Royal Experiment (1861 -), in which newly-freed African American plantation laborers successfully took over the running of Port Royal Island plantations, where they had previously been slaves, reignited interest in these songs. Port Royal's development was overseen by northern abolitionist missionaries, academics, and doctors. By 1867, the “first seven spirituals in this collection” were “frequently sung in church,” according to the authors.

Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who commanded the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the Civil War's first African-American regiment, “recruited, trained, and stationed at Beaufort, South Carolina” from 1862 to 1863, died in 1869. “It was their conduct under guns that humiliated the nation into acknowledging them as men,” Higginson said of the former slaves in his regiment. He socialized with the soldiers and wrote his biography Army Life in a Black Regiment in 1869, which included the lyrics of selected spirituals. Higginson recorded some of the spirituals he heard in camp during the Civil War. “Almost all of their songs had a deeply religious tone to them,…and were written in a minor key, both in text and melody.”

The Fisk Jubilee Singers began touring in 1871, generating increased interest in “spirituals as concert repertory.” The Jubilee Singers began publishing their own songbooks in 1872, including “The Gospel Train.”

Is Give Me Jesus a Negro spiritual?

Give Me Jesus (also known as And I Heard The Mourner Say) is a popular Christian spiritual hymn in the United States. The song alludes to Matthew 16:26 and other passages in Matthew's Gospel on the Day of Judgment.

Rev. Jacob Knapp, a Baptist clergyman from New York, wrote the earliest recorded version of “Give Me Jesus” in the United States in 1845. By 1849, the Methodists had published a version, and by the mid-nineteenth century, the song had become well-known thanks to various camp meetings and hymnals. “Give Me Jesus” was popular among African American congregations, and former slaves in Port Royal, South Carolina sung it, according to Slave Songs of the United States (1867). However, the song may not have started primarily with slaves, as it was earlier published by the Methodists. African American congregations, on the other hand, are likely to have inspired the present version of the song. The Fisk Jubilee Singers published a rendition of the song in 1873, and it is still popular today. Famous nineteenth-century songwriters such as Fanny Crosby's “Take the World, But Give Me Jesus” published variations and derivations of the song, while musicians such as Vince Gill and Fernando Ortega have recorded and interpreted the song in the twenty-first century.

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What is a spiritual person like?

Being spiritual entails prioritizing self- and other-love as a top priority. Spiritual individuals are concerned about people, animals, and the environment. A spiritual person recognizes that we are all One and makes conscious efforts to honor that unity. A spiritual person is kind.

How do I choose my spiritual path?

Many people assume that in order to discover your spiritual path, you must be a member of a particular religion or faith. However, this isn't always the case; you don't have to be a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or even a Buddhist to find your own particular spiritual path. Regardless of what you believe in about anything else in life, your spiritual path is something that is absolutely particular to you.

For many people, following a spiritual path is akin to looking for something that completes them. If you've discovered that things outside of yourself can't genuinely make you happy, it's time to realize that the only way to find true pleasure is to start from inside, and then everything else will fall into place. But where do you start looking for your own spiritual path? Let's have a look.

For many people, finding their spiritual path is best accomplished with the assistance of someone who is more enlightened than they are. With the guidance of a professional psychic, many people have been able to properly decide their spiritual path. Speaking with a psychic may also help you gain a greater understanding of specific events and situations in your life, allowing you to watch things unfold for their intended purposes. For more information about online psychic reading services, check these reviews.

Because meditation allows you to become more at one with yourself, it is an excellent tool for determining your spiritual path. Meditating will assist you in better controlling your thoughts and feelings, as well as gaining a deeper understanding of yourself, allowing you to connect with your true self.

Seeking for your higher self via strategies like those outlined above will help you identify your spiritual path in life. It will be easier for you to discern and follow your path once you begin to grasp that you have a higher self and what it represents.

What is a spiritual power?

As the intelligence that feeds and organizes all forms, from atom to cosmos, spiritual power pervades every facet of life. It's up to you to use this power. It emanates from inside, and nothing can stop it once you've discovered the genuine self as its source.

What is a Negro spiritual and what is its origin?

Negro spirituals are songs written by Africans who were abducted and sold into slavery in the United States. The masters could not take away this stolen race's languages, families, or customs, but they could not take away their music.

Over time, these slaves and their offspring accepted their owners' faith, Christianity. They reshaped it into a very personal response to their enslavement's oppression. The slaves' yearning to convey their new faith was reflected in their songs, which became known as spirituals:

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From Genesis to Revelation, my people told stories in which God's faithful were the major protagonists. They were familiar with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, as well as Moses and the Red Sea. They sang about Joshua and the Hebrew children at the battle of Jericho. They could tell you all there is to know about Mary, Jesus, God, and the Devil. You could hear a song about the blind man seeing, God disturbing the water, Ezekiel seeing a wheel, and Jesus being crucified and risen from the dead if you stood around long enough. If slaves were unable to read the Bible, they would remember Biblical stories and turn them into songs. 1

Without their owners' knowledge, the songs were also utilized to communicate with one another. This was especially true when a slave planned to flee his or her bonds and seek freedom via the Underground Railroad.

Spirituals were made on the spot and passed down verbally from person to person. Folksongs were improvised according to the singers' preferences. There are roughly 6,000 spirituals or grief songs recorded; however, the real number of songs is unclear due to oral tradition of the slaves' forefathers and the prohibition against slaves learning to read or write. “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen,” “Steal Away,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Go Down, Moses,” “He's Got the Whole World in His Hand,” “Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees,” and “Wade in the Water” are among the most well-known spirituals.

Most freed slaves separated themselves from the music of their captivity after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the end of the American Civil War, and the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially abolishing slavery in 1865. The spiritual seemed doomed to be remembered only in slave narratives and a few historical reports by whites who attempted to record the songs they heard. The 1867 publication, Slave Songs of the United States, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson's Army Life in a Black Regiment, which described the slave songs he heard the black Union troops sing, are two of the most important of these reports. The difficulties they experienced recording the spirituals they heard was explained in the foreword of Slave Songs by author William Francis Allen:

However, the best we can achieve with paper and type, or even voices, will only transmit a sliver of the original. The intonations and tiny variations of even one vocalist cannot be replicated on paper, and the voices of colored people have a unique quality that nothing can imitate. And I'm at a loss for words to describe the impression of a group of people singing together, especially in a complex yell like “I can't stay behind, my Lord” (No. 8) or “Turn, sinner, turn O!” (No. 48). There is no singing in parts as we know it, yet no two singers appear to be singing the identical thing—the lead vocalist begins each verse's words, often improvising, and the others, known as “bases,” strike in with the refrain or even participate in the solo when the words are familiar. 2

When a group of students from Nashville, Tennessee's recently created Fisk University began touring to generate money for the financially distressed school, spiritual performance was given a new lease on life. The musically trained chorus of the Fisk Jubilee Singers not only brought spirituals to sections of the United States that had never heard Negro folksongs before, but they also performed in front of royalty during their tours of Europe in the 1870s. The Fisk Jubilee Singers' success inspired other Black universities to develop touring groups. Professional “jubilee singers” traveled the world effectively as well. To suit public demand, collections of “plantation songs” were created.

Harry T. Burleigh, a singer and composer, was influenced by Antonn Dvoák, a Czech composer, while studying at the National Conservatory of Music. In 1892, Dvoák traveled to the United States to serve as the conservatory's new director and to inspire Americans to create their own national music. Dvoák became aware of the spiritual through his interactions with Burleigh, and subsequently stated:

Inspiration for really national music could come from African-American melodies or Indian chants. I came to this conclusion partially because the so-called plantation songs are among the most stunning and enticing melodies yet discovered on this side of the Atlantic, but primarily because most Americans appear to recognize it, albeit often unintentionally. ………………………… Certain of the so-called plantation tunes and slave songs, all of which are characterised by peculiar and nuanced harmonies, the likes of which I have found in no other songs save those of old Scotland and Ireland, are, in my opinion, the most potent as well as the most beautiful among them.3

Burleigh composed the song “Deep River” for voice and piano in 1916. He had written a few vocal and instrumental works based on the plantation melodies he had learned as a child by that time in his career. However, his arrangement of “Deep River” is regarded as one of the earliest works of its sort to be produced in art song form and intended for performance by a trained vocalist.

Concert performers and recording artists, both black and white, grew enamored of “Deep River” and other spiritual settings. It wasn't long before recitals ended with a set of spirituals. These songs become a part of the repertoires of musicians like Roland Hayes and Marian Anderson. In 1925, at the Greenwich Village Theatre in New York, New York, Paul Robeson is recognized with being the first to deliver a solo vocal recital of all Negro spirituals and worksongs.

Many composers have released arrangements of Negro spirituals expressly for performance on the concert stage over the years, and singers such as Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, and Simon Estes have recorded them for commercial distribution.

Spirituals are also arranged by composers for collegiate choruses and structured choral ensembles, as well as professional touring choirs. In September 1925, Hall Johnson founded the Hall Johnson Negro Choir to “show how the American Negro slaves–in 250 years of constant practice, self-developed under pressure but equipped with their inborn sense of rhythm and drama (plus their new religion)–created, propagated, and illuminated an art-form that was, and still is, unique in the world of music.” 4 From the 1930s to the 1950s, Canadian-born Robert Nathaniel Dett, William Levi Dawson, Undine Smith Moore, Eva Jessye, Wendell Whalum, Jester Hairston, Roland Carter, Andre Thomas, Moses Hogan, and many more choral composers adopted the spiritual as a source of musical inspiration.

The spiritual has also spawned a slew of other American music genres, including blues, jazz, and gospel. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, spirituals were essential in keeping protesters' spirits up. The songs acted as a rallying cry for individuals protesting against laws and policies that denied African Americans equal rights.

Both the performer and the accompanist are challenged to show off their technical abilities and musicality in these art tunes. More significantly, the songs require that the musicians tap into the same deep well of emotions that fueled the slaves of old. According to Hall Johnson:

True, this music came to us through humble means, but its root is the same as that of all great art: the insatiable, divinely human desire for a perfect embodiment of existence. It moves through all shades of emotion without overflowing in any direction. Its saddest lines are devoid of pessimism, and its lightest, brightest moments are devoid of frivolity. There is always optimism in its darkest expressions, and a continual reminder in its gayest measures. This music, which was inspired by the cries of a captive people who had not forgotten how to laugh, spans a wide variety of emotions. It is, however, always serious music that should be presented in the spirit of its original conception. 5

Spirituals must be sung with a knowledge of what drove such powerful melodies to come up from the souls of the men and women who wrote them, whether in a musical performance, congregational singing, or just singing to oneself. Although the unknown writers of those American folk songs are no longer with us, their yearning for independence and unwavering faith continue to flood our hearts every time we sing these deeply felt melodies.

“The singer who seeks to sing the spirituals without the holy spirit will be like the man who plants pebbles and expects them to bloom into lilies,” soprano Ruby Elzy said simply of the skill of singing spirituals.


The Music

  • A “leader” starts a line, which is followed by a choral response; generally sung at a quick, rhythmic tempo (“Ain't That Good News,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Go Down, Moses”).
  • Songs with extended, expressive phrasing and a generally slower tempo (“Deep River,” “Balm in Gilead,” “Calvary”) are slow and melodious.
  • Fast and rhythmic – Songs with a faster, syncopated beat (e.g., “Witness,” “Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit,” “Elijah Rock,” “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”) that often tell a tale.

The songs were about Old Testament people (Daniel, Moses, and David) who had to endure immense adversity and with whom the slaves could easily connect. The slaves most closely connected with Jesus Christ, who they knew would help them, according to the New Testament “Hold on” until they were set free. Slaves sung about Heaven a lot, but the River Jordan—and the concealed reference to the Underground Railroad's destination, the Ohio River—was a recurrent topic in their songs.

Because the singers' songs' rhythm was so important, they would add or delete syllables in words to make them match the tune. Pioneers of spiritual art songs frequently used dialect in their settings, which is the way slaves pronouned words. Here are a few examples:

Early vocal renditions reflected pioneering composers' goals to preserve as much of the original sound as feasible “As close to the “felt” of the original spiritual as possible. Choral arrangements were best delivered a cappella, and solo vocal works permitted the vocalist to be accompanied by a keyboard. They mostly composed in a 2/4 or 4/4 time signature.

However, both the vocal line and the accompaniment have become more tonally and rhythmically complicated throughout time. Dialect is used less frequently. This far more regimented method gives the performers with more technical challenges, but it also limits their expressive interpretation options. This, however, lays a higher burden on the performers to be sensitive to the music's original aim and to express that intent to the listener.

1Velma No Man Can Hinder Me: The Journey from Slavery to Emancipation through Song (New York: Crown Publishers, 2001), 14. Maia Thomas, No Man Can Hinder Me: The Journey from Slavery to Emancipation through Song (New York: Crown Publishers, 2001), 14.

2Slave Songs of the United States, edited by William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison (New York: A. Simpson, 1867; reprint, Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1995), iv-v.

4Johnson, Hall “Notes on the African-American Spiritual” (1965). 277 in Eileen Southern's Readings in Black American Music, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1983), comp. and ed.

Thirty Spirituals: Arranged for Voice and Piano, by G. Schirmer (New York: G. Schirmer; dist., Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard, 1949),

6Ruby Elzy is a character in the Ruby Elzy series “Etude 61, no.8 (August 1943): 495-496, “The Spirit of the Spirituals: Religion and Music, a Solution to the Race Problem.”