Florence Price posthumously honored by music teacher’s association that once denied her membership

Florence Price (1887-1953) – Little Rock-born composer, educator, pianist and subject of the film “The Caged Bird” – was denied membership in the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association sometime between 1917 and 1927, and because she was African American. A hundred years later, the national branch of that same organization is naming Price as a Foundation Fellow, as Angelita Faller’s release from UA Little Rock yesterday details.

“An excerpt from Price’s biography in the Encyclopedia of Arkansascontextualizes the denial within Price’s life and her subsequent departure from Arkansas. Read more

Kumbaya: Stories of an African American Spiritual (podcast)

With the help of AFC archivists, Stephen Winick and John Fenn reveal the history of a great work of African American folk creativity: the spiritual “Kumbaya” or “Come By Here.” You’ll hear how it was collected from oral tradition in Georgia and North Carolina in the 1920s, and hear it become the first State Historical Song of Georgia on the floor of the Georgia State Senate. You’ll find out how the words “come by here,” sung in a regional dialect, came to be spelled “Kumbaya” around the world. Listen here

Literacy, History, and African American Spirituals

Members of a Pentecostal church praising the Lord in Chicago, 1941 (Library of Congress).

In his 1935 interview with Alan Lomax and Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Quarterman, a ninety-one-year-old formerly enslaved man, shared a spiritual that expressed the discursive realities of enslavement. Legally denied literacy, African Americans developed a dynamic oral discourse through both slave songs and the performance of orality. read more

NEW BOOK: Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry

Front CoverNew book by Sandra Jean Graham (University of Illinois Press2018)

Spirituals performed by jubilee troupes became a sensation in post-Civil War America. First brought to the stage by choral ensembles like the Fisk Jubilee Singers, spirituals anchored a wide range of late nineteenth-century entertainments, including minstrelsy, variety, and plays by both black and white companies. In the first book-length treatment of postbellum spirituals in theatrical entertainments, Sandra Jean Graham mines a trove of resources to chart the spiritual’s journey from the private lives of slaves to the concert stage. Graham navigates the conflicting agendas of those who, in adapting spirituals for their own ends, sold conceptions of racial identity to their patrons. In so doing they lay the foundation for a black entertainment industry whose artistic, financial, and cultural practices extended into the twentieth century. A companion website contains jubilee troupe personnel, recordings, and profiles of 85 jubilee groups. Please go to: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/graham/spirituals/

Beaufort County 98-year-old still sings the old Gullah spirituals

James Garfield Smalls, 98, pictured at his St. Helena Island home amongst his cattle, will be recognized by the South Carolina Arts Commission on Wednesday and awarded the 2018 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award. The award celebrates artists that practice art forms that have been kept through their families and communities and a commitment to keeping those traditions alive. Garfield is a singer of traditional Gullah spirituals - several of which he has authored himself.Deacon James Garfield Smalls is 98, but he’s still got a boombox inside that rumbles out spirituals he learned from his great-grandfather on St. Helena Island.

Spirituals are the biblical songs of hope that the enslaved sang, now considered the roots of jazz and blues and all of American music.

Smalls will be honored by the S.C. Arts Commission, the governor and state legislature at the State House in Columbia this Wednesday. He will be cited as one the most important active Gullah singers and cultural ambassadors. more

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