Jes Go Back to de Fiel a Singin”: The Spiritual as a Vehicle of Resistance in the Antebellum South

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.

image: Hands breaking free from chains.

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.

“Black Music in the Poetry of Langston Hughes”

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.

“I’LL BE SOMEWHERE LISTENING FOR MY NAME”: WINGS OVER JORDAN CHOIR, THE SPIRITUALS, AND THE AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Mary Dobbin Williams

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!

JUBILEE SINGERS SACRIFICE AND GLORY: American Experience – Documentary

The profound and inspiring story of students who battled prejudice and oppression to sing their way into the nation’s heart.

On November 16, 1871, a group of unknown singers — all but two of them former slaves and many of them still in their teens — arrived at Oberlin College in Ohio to perform before a national convention of influential ministers. After a few standard ballads, the chorus began to sing spirituals — “Steal Away” and other songs” associated with slavery and the dark past, sacred to our parents,” as soprano Ella Sheppard recalled. It was one of the first public performances of the secret music African Americans had sung in fields and behind closed doors. More

Harry T. Burleigh Week

Born in Erie on Dec. 2, 1866, Burleigh learned spirituals as a child from his grandfather, Hamilton Waters, a former slave who worked as a lamplighter in Erie.

Burleigh later earned international acclaim as a renowned African-American classical composer, singer, arranger and music editor.

An accomplished baritone, Burleigh, who died in 1949 at age 82, played a significant role in developing American art songs. He composed more than 200 works in that genre and was the first African-American composer acclaimed for his adaptations of African-American spirituals. More

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/