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)

Roxane Beth Johnson’s Black Crow Dress

Johnson, Roxane Beth. Black Crow Dress. Farmington, ME: Alice James Books, 2013.

A collection of lyrically intense persona poems about the emancipation of slaves in their myriad voices as well as a meditation on the self. The collection’s imagery takes the reader from churchyard to church, chanting the old spirituals, as Johnson seeks to embody the spirits of the dead. (Publisher’s abstract, abridged)

Music/Worship Aids for Martin Luther King, Jr, Birthday

Smith, William Farley. “Cries of Freedom in Afro-American Spirituals:  and Black History Month Recognition.” Drew Gateway 61 (1991): 60–70.

Presents an overview of slaves during antebellum America. The African American leaders in the churches encouraged slaves to rise and strike for freedom. One particular pastor was Henry Highland Garnet, an advocate of militant abolitionism from Buffalo, New York. Supports Garnet’s work and argues that it is theologically sound, as are 98 percent of the slave songs. With that in mind, Smith outlines a potential order of worship for a Martin Luther King Jr. birthday and African American History Month recognition. Includes a brief bibliography of collections, writings, and commentaries on slave songs.

Africanisms Retained in the Spiritual Tradition

african-mask-borderMaultsby, Portia K. “Africanisms Retained in the Spiritual Tradition.” In International Musicological Society, Report of the Twelfth Congress, Berkeley 1977, edited by Daniel Heartz and Bonnie C. Wade, 75–82. Kassel: Barenreiter, 1981.

During the colonial and antebellum periods (1619–1861), Southern slaves created several cultural forms that preserved elements of their African past. The form of religious music that emerged from the culture established by slaves became known as spirituals. The degree to which West African musical traditions and cultural practices influenced the evolution of African American spirituals varied and was dependent on the social structures that determined the slaves’ daily existence. This discussion surveys the evolution of African American spirituals within the context of social environments and through an analysis of proposed theories regarding their origin. (Author’s abstract, slightly revised)

Classification of the Vocal Works of Harry T. Burleigh

Allison, Roland Lewis. “maud_cuney_hare-harry_t_burleigh_328 (1866–1949) and Some Suggestions for Their Use in Teaching Diction in Singing.” PhD diss., Indiana University, 1966.

A historical study of Harry Thacker Burleigh and his works, including a graded analysis of his solo vocal works. Outlines vocal teaching concepts and how they might be used with these works. Includes an appendix of Burleigh’s vocal works from 1898 to 1949, listing title, source or author of text, and publisher. Contains an extensive bibliography and music examples.

The Orphan Girls (1856) by James S. Peacocke and his use of spirituals

orphan-girlAnderson, Hilton. “Some Negro Slave Songs from an 1856 Novel.” Mississippi Folklore Register 8, no. 3 (1974): 221–26.

The popular novel The Orphan Girls (1856), by James S. Peacocke, is the story of a Louisiana plantation owner’s two daughters who are almost sold at a slave auction before being rescued at the last minute. The novel contains many references to spirituals, and since the novel predates many collections of spirituals, it is an important source for spirituals in the Mississippi and Louisiana area. Anderson has attempted to locate other versions of the songs wherever possible.

Mary Lou Williams “First Lady of the Jazz Keyboard”

Handy, D. Antoinette, and Black Perspective inmary_lou_williams_gottlieb_09231_-_crop Music 8, no. 2 (1980): 195–214.

Interviews with Mary Lou Williams from December 4, 1979, through May 29, 1980. Mentions Williams’s early childhood and exposure to spirituals through her mother. Provides extensive details about her career as a performer and teacher. Defines the term “jazz” and the influence spirituals have had on the definition. Covers Williams’s philosophy on the “Americanism” of music. Includes references about musical influences and close associates, and a discussion of outstanding African American women who performed as instrumentalists in jazz bands. (Author’s abstract, revised)

From Spirituals to Hip Hop

Punjabi, Rajul. “From Spirituals to Hip Hop: The Black Experience Expressed through Narrative and Music.” DMA diss., Long Island University, 2012.best-hiphop-of-2015

Hip-hop involves not just lyrics and beats, but an entire culture that has captured a broad audience of youth in America. It is an amalgamation of African American music, often embedded with reggae riddims, Motown soul, and the powerful chanting of spirituals. More progressive hip-hop lyrics, like those of Talib Kweli, are a reaction to the tears, laughter, and political state of a community, just as spirituals were. While this content and the accompanying beats are marketed as a form of entertainment, Kweli’s hip-hop can be used as a tool to study race, class, and social constructs in America. Many parallels can be drawn between progressive hip-hop music of today and the stories and songs that discussed oppression more than a century ago. Examination of the lyrics that Kweli has written for his albums during the past decade show unsettling similarity to the issues that W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and some of their peers toiled over long ago. (Author’s abstract, abridged and revised)

Harriett Gibbs Marshall and the Washington Conservatory

harriet_gibbs_marshall__public_domain_Schmalenberger, Sarah Carr Liggett. “The Washington Conservatory of Music and African-American Musical Experience, 1903–1941.” PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2004.

In 1903, Harriett Gibbs Marshall, the first African American woman graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, opened the Washington Conservatory of Music in the nation’s capital. This was the first private conservatory owned and operated exclusively by African Americans. As the oldest and longest-running American institution to have advocated the study and performance of African American music, it helped African Americans construct and manage their own careers in music. Most of the instructors at the Washington Conservatory were female graduates of leading music schools, and the majority of the students were women. Concert programs and other materials from the Washington Conservatory of Music, now housed at Howard University and Oberlin College, reveal much about Marshall’s attitude toward this tradition. Although she cultivated the Western European “canonical” repertoire, she also developed a course of study that transcended it, offering a course on “Negro Music History” and using African American vernacular folk music, including spirituals, to teach harmony. Despite the efforts of many to preserve spirituals, there was an aesthetic divide at Washington Conservatory that caused conflicts within the academic and professional musical communities. Not all African Americans enjoyed singing or hearing spirituals. Marshall’s career illustrates the contributions that African American women have made in shaping musical practice in the United States through their work as teachers and administrators. (Author’s abstract, abridged)

Bible study based on spirituals

Kirk-black_madonna-01Duggan, Cheryl. Mary Had a Baby: A Bible Study Based on African American Spirituals. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.

This book and CD set is designed for group study. The group reads the scripture passage and historical context of the spiritual. Includes material for a discussion and interaction based on the biblical, historical, and spiritual themes of the words and music. Spirituals discussed are “Mary Had a Baby” (Matthew 1:25b),  “Rise Up Shepherd and Follow” (Matthew 2:9),  “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” (Luke 2:4), and “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” (Luke 2:20).