About That Song You’ve Heard, Kumbaya

St. Luke Baptist Church in Hog Hammock, a Gullah Geechee community on Sapelo Island, Ga.CreditDavid Goldman/Associated Press

We chant it with locked arms and closed eyes, at campfires, in protest lines and from the pews at church, but the truth is, many of us have no clue what the lyrics mean or exactly where they come from.

Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya. Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya.

Thanks to research and lobbying by residents of a coastal community descended from slaves, the origins and meaning of “Kumbaya” have been recognized in Congress, raising hopes that a fading culture might get a boost. The song may be sung more often than usual this month, especially in the part of Georgia where its soulful lyrics are said to have originated almost a century ago. more

Choral group sings spirituals of protest

An award-winning Boston choral group will perform on Saturday a concert of spirituals that were protest songs against injustice.

The 30-students will sing a program titled “The Caged Bird – Songs From a Distant Hill,” with a reference to Maya Angelou’s famous poem, “Caged Bird,” in homage to African Americans who lived as slaves. “The entire concert tells a story,” according to director Tyrone Sutton, who is music department co-chair at the academy. Spirituals were often covert acts of communal defiance that liberated people from the mental and physical oppression of slavery, and the show’s theme of protest songs “teaches about the coded messages behind many popular spirituals and juxtaposes it with a modern piece called ‘Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.’” more

The Spirituals Project And The Deep Meaning Of Slave-Era Songs

A. Todd Jefferson of the Denver choir The Spirituals Project in the CPR Performance Studio on Jan. 18, 2018

(Stephanie Wolf/CPR News)

Most people know the lyrics to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?
(Coming for to carry me home)
I saw a band of angels coming after me
(Coming for to carry me home)

Fewer people realize how songs like this, sung by many Africans enslaved in America in the 18th and 19th centuries — that we now call spirituals — had coded messages.

“One of the important functions enslaved Africans wanted this music to serve was to help them with their quest for freedom,” says University of Denver professor Arthur Jones. read more

‘We Shall Overcome’ Verse Not Under Copyright, Judge Rules

 
A crowd sings “We Shall Overcome” at a rally in Farmville, Va., in 1966. CreditThe New York Times

A federal judge on Friday struck down the copyright for part of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” saying that the song’s adaptation from an older work — including changing “will” to “shall” — was not original enough to qualify for protection. more

Integrating Diversity into Instructional Settings

Choi, Eunjung, and Laura J. Keith. 2016. “Cultural Diversity.” Music Educators Journal 103, no. 2: 35-40.

Contemporary African-American classical composers Cedric Adderley, John Lane, and Trevor Weston intertwine strands of culture and individual experience to produce musical works whose distinct designs offer cultural resources that music educators can use to integrate diversity into instructional settings. Of special interest is their ability to combine traditional European styles and other musical styles, including jazz, gospel, and blues, in their music. The authors include recommendations for incorporating elements of these contemporary African-American-composed works into the curriculum. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

Listening B(l)ack: Paul Robeson After Roland Hayes

OLWAGE, GRANT. 2015. “Listening B(l)ack: Paul Robeson After Roland Hayes.” Journal Of Musicology 32, no. 4: 524-557.

Much of the interpretive scholarship on Paul Robeson has tended to focus on his art as it relates to politics, an imperative related no doubt as much to the social turn in the humanities as to the singer’s own activist credentials. This article shifts the focus to art matters with the goal of gaining additional perspective on Robeson’s early singing career in the 1920s by examining the contemporary practices of concert singing. The analysis focuses on three domains of practice pertaining to singing spirituals at concerts: the programming of spirituals in recital; arranging them for performance; and their vocal performance. I include a study of how Robeson’s concert practice is indebted to that of the tenor Roland Hayes, proposing that a close listening to Hayes’s singing sheds new light on the assessment of Robeson’s early concert career and representations of the singer as racial subject. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

Intercultural Elements in the Organ Works of Fela Sowande

Sadoh, Godwin. 2017. “Intercultural Elements in the Organ Works of Fela Sowande.” Diapason 108, no. 3: 23-25.

The article profiles composer and performer Fela Sowande. He was raised in the Nigerian bicultural topography where the English cultural values and the Yoruba traditional culture co-existed. He arrived in the U.S. at the peak of civil rights activities, African American renaissance and Afro-centric idealism in the 1960s. The contribution of Sowande to the ideologies include how he borrowed African-American spirituals and integrated them into his music compositions.

Spirituals in China

Ming. “The Spirituals of Wuyang District.” Bridge: Church Life in China Today, no. 28 (1988): 11–14.

Explains how Christians of the enjoy singing spirituals, but many of the transcriptions are inaccurate. Includes corrected texts for eight spirituals, including “Ten Questions and Answers,” “Noah’s Ark,” “Lord Jesus Preaches,” “True and False Shop,” “The World Is Like Two Boats,” “Live by the Lord,” “Ten Fresh Flowers,” and “When Granny Believes.”

Black Tradition of Spiritual Wrestling

Becker, William H. “The Black Tradition of Spiritual Wrestling.” Journal of Religious Thought 51, no. 2 (1994): 29–46.

Becker outlines five basic themes he sees in the writings of African Americans, such as Richard Allen, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr. Malcom X, and Alice Walker: suffering, spiritual striving, dark spiritual beauty, spiritual challenge, and a belief that African American spiritual struggle has to do with the very soul of America. Becker identifies these themes in spirituals as well.