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)
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!
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
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
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
Spearman, 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)