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.

Solo Trumpet Repertoire by African American Composers

Wilson, Orrin. “The Contributions of Twentieth Century African American Composers to the Solo Trumpet Repertoire: A Discussion and Analysis of Selected Works by Ulysses S. Kay, Adolphus C. Hailstork, Regina Harris Baiocchi, and Charles Lloyd, Jr.” DMA diss., University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 2011.

While there has been a constant growth in the academic study of African American composers who have written concert and recital music, their contributions to the solo trumpet repertoire has received far less attention. Many African American composers’ works stretch far beyond the realm of spirituals, folk songs, choral works, jazz, and popular music. The composers covered here are noteworthy because they represent just a few of the various African American musicians who have composed works for the solo trumpet. Each composer’s work represents cultural and historical trends intended to counter negative perceptions of African American culture. These composers also represent the stylistic components that are associated with recognizable elements of African American music within the African American nationalistic vernacular, including call and response, the use of spirituals, and jazz influences. Focuses on the following works: Ulysses Simpson Kay, Tromba for Trumpet and Piano; Adolphus Cunningham Hailstork, Sonata for Trumpet and Piano; Regina Harris Baiocchi, Miles Per Hour for Unaccompanied Trumpet; and Charles Lloyds Jr., The Crucifixion for Trumpet and Piano. (Author’s abstract, abridged and revised)

Darin Atwater Puts a New Spin on Preserving Spirituals

Peoples, Betsy. “Spreading the Gospel: Darin Atwater Puts a New Spin on Preserving Generations of Negro Spirituals.” Emerge 11, no. 4 (2000): 76–78, 80, 82.

Profiles composer and pianist Darin Atwater and tells of his campaign to preserve African American spirituals by reintroducing them to a “new generation of people.” Suggests that Atwater has taken a “contemporary approach to preserving [the] songs,” which includes improvisation, rhythmic complexity, and call and response. Atwater has arranged and composed for such musicians as Stevie Wonder, Yolanda Adams, and Kathleen Battle. Includes several photographs of the musician. (Publisher’s abstract, revised)