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

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

Langston Hughes and Howard Swanson

joy41Spearman, Rawn Wardell. “The ‘Joy’ of Langston Hughes and Howard Swanson.” Black Perspective in Music 9, no. 2 (1981): 121–38.

In excerpts from an interview conducted on July 22, 1972, Spearman and Swanson discuss Swanson’s lifestyle and musical values and his setting of Langston Hughes’s poem “Joy.” In a musical analysis of the song, Swanson discusses its blues and jazz influences: the handling of polyrhythms and the inspirations for some of the motives. The work of current African American composers draws less on the spirituals and oral tradition of African American music than did the work of earlier generations. (Journal’s abstract, revised)

E. Azalia Smith Hackley (1867–1922)

Azalia Smith Hackley an African American singer and Denver political activist born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1867.  Her parents, business owners Henry and Corilla Smith, moved to Detroit where she attended Washington Normal School, graduating in 1886.  Smith, a child prodigy learned to play the piano at three and later took private voice, violin and French lessons. Emma Smith worked as an elementary school teacher for eighteen years.  Despite her stellar training, Hackley did not pursue a professional career.  Instead she spent much of the rest of her life training a younger generation of singers including Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes and R. Nathaniel Dett.

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