History, Context, and Linguistics
A new book by Felcia Raphael Marie Barber with a foreword by Andrea J. Thomasa. New Perspective for the Use of Dialect in African American Spirituals: History, Context, and Linguistics investigates the use of the African American English (AAE) dialect in the musical genre of the spiritual. Perfect for conductors and performers alike, this book traces the history of the dialect, its use in early performance practice, and the sociolinguistic impact of the AAE dialect in the United States. Read more and purchase!
The Sound of Freedom and Protest in the South Carolina Sea Islands
In Gullah Spirituals musicologist Eric Crawford traces Gullah Geechee songs from their beginnings in
West Africa to their height as songs for social change and Black identity in the twentieth-century American South. While much has been done to study, preserve, and interpret Gullah culture in the Lowcountry and sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia, some traditions like the shouting and rowing songs have been all but forgotten. This work, which focuses primarily on South Carolina’s St. Helena Island, illuminates the remarkable history, survival, and influence of spirituals since the earliest recordings in the 1860s. Read more
This dissertation by Samuel Williams explores the foundational influence of Negro Spirituals on the development of the Black Church in the United States and investigates if this influence, or lack of influence, continues with the 21st century Black Church in the United States. Fifty Black Churches were surveyed regarding the current influence of Negro Spirituals on the 21st Century Black Church in the United States. Combined with the theological, historical, and bibliographic research, data revealed that the Negro Spiritual was foundational to the development of the Black Church. Read more
By M. Roger Holland, IIMay 14, 2021
Spirituals are often taught to children. I believe that’s because the melodies are simple and easy to learn. The lyrics are repetitious and easily grasped. Many of the spirituals are structured in a call and response manner, ideal for group participation. All of this is true and highlights the African cultural retentions inherent in the music. Still, it does not negate the deeper meanings held in the music, including its historical context. (more)
By Kaitlyn GreenidgeMarch 5, 2021
Ten years ago, I worked as a researcher, conducting oral-history interviews for a project with the Weeksville Heritage Center. Weeksville is an extraordinary museum in central Brooklyn dedicated to the history of the free Black community that was founded there in 1838, when a Black stevedore named James Weeks first purchased the property. This occurred eleven years after Emancipation in New York, as Black residents organized to buy land in order to qualify to vote and build Black political power throughout the borough. Over one hundred years later, in 1968, the neighborhood organized again to preserve the last architectural remnants of the community, successfully fending off city efforts to destroy it during a campaign for urban renewal. The site has been a place of so many triumphs and reversals of history that it felt as though someone made it up. In a way, many people had — it was the culmination of the hopes and dreams of fugitives for freedom across hundreds of years. Part of my job as a researcher was to talk to those who had fought to preserve this history — ordinary Brooklynites who had done the extraordinary. Up until that point, I’d had the good fortune of mostly working at Black-history museums; at Weeksville, I felt I was directly in contact with the past. (more and audio recording)
Thomas Breedlove (2020) To Sing Against Singing: Constraint and Liberation in the Spirituals of Roland Hayes, Political Theology, DOI: 10.1080/1462317X.2020.1855843
The tenor Roland Hayes came to international fame in the Harlem Renaissance, but the obscurity that followed his success reveals the catch-22 that confronted him and many of his contemporaries. Hayes’s career was plagued by the choice between, on the one hand, assimilating black music to narrations of primitivity and authenticity and, on the other, subscribing to projects of black music’s transformation under the tutelage of Western form. The first part of this article traces the tangled discourse on the meaning and significance of the spirituals from Frederick Douglass to the Harlem Renaissance. The second examines how this context shaped Hayes’s career and its reception. The third turns to James Cone to articulate a constructive theological reading of divine liberation in the spirituals. Here, the essay argues that the spirituals’ theology must be heard both within the songs’ historical complexity and as witness to a different understanding of history itself.
Brunson, Brianna. ““Jes Go Back to de Fiel a Singin”: The Spiritual as a Vehicle of Resistance in the Antebellum South.” Global Africana (2020):3.
This article examines the contributions of spirituals—culturally black, southern, religious songs recognized at the turn of the nineteenth century—as vehicles of emotional resistance for those enslaved in the antebellum South. Spirituals, through their charged language, religious overtones, and outlook toward life without/after slavery, attested to the humanity of the enslaved peoples who sang them. These songs allowed people to display desire, happiness, anguish, and opposition, despite their bodies and souls being commodified by dominant society. Singing thus represented the enslaved African’s claim to a certain degree of agency in the midst of bondage. Born out of suffering, spirituals emphasized the harsh realities of slavery while challenging its attempts to police matters of the mind and spirit. By consulting relevant literature, interpreting documented antebellum spirituals, and analyzing testimonies from the Federal Writers’ Project, this article will detail the ways in which songs negotiated the repression of enslaved people’s identity and emotions, making singing a political act of resistance.
Zhao, Peng. “Black Music in the Poetry of Langston Hughes.” Frontiers in Art Research, Vol. 2, Issue 5: 34-36, DOI: 10.25236/FAR.2020.020508
The paper attempts to interpret the styles and meanings in the poetry of Hughes and reveals his constant references to black music both in forms and themes to record the black lives. Based on diachronic analysis, the author discovers the most powerful voice Hughes adopts in his portrayals of the blacks exists in poetry drawing on spirituals, blues, and jazz.
The choir Wings Over Jordan made numerous contributions to choral music using the spirituals. The transmission of spirituals that began within the institution of slavery were adapted for demonstrations and marches during the Civil Rights Movement. The songs were created to illuminate political, social and cultural environmental messages. The recognition of this choir resulted in music recordings, USO tours during World War II, as well as other international performances. The choir performed weekly on the “Negro Hour” over radio station WGAR in Cleveland, Ohio. Check out this Master’s Thesis!