Gullah Spirituals

The Sound of Freedom and Protest in the South Carolina Sea Islands

In Gullah Spirituals musicologist Eric Crawford traces Gullah Geechee songs from their beginnings in

West Africa to their height as songs for social change and Black identity in the twentieth-century American South. While much has been done to study, preserve, and interpret Gullah culture in the Lowcountry and sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia, some traditions like the shouting and rowing songs have been all but forgotten. This work, which focuses primarily on South Carolina’s St. Helena Island, illuminates the remarkable history, survival, and influence of spirituals since the earliest recordings in the 1860s. Read more

Beaufort County 98-year-old still sings the old Gullah spirituals

James Garfield Smalls, 98, pictured at his St. Helena Island home amongst his cattle, will be recognized by the South Carolina Arts Commission on Wednesday and awarded the 2018 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award. The award celebrates artists that practice art forms that have been kept through their families and communities and a commitment to keeping those traditions alive. Garfield is a singer of traditional Gullah spirituals - several of which he has authored himself.Deacon James Garfield Smalls is 98, but he’s still got a boombox inside that rumbles out spirituals he learned from his great-grandfather on St. Helena Island.

Spirituals are the biblical songs of hope that the enslaved sang, now considered the roots of jazz and blues and all of American music.

Smalls will be honored by the S.C. Arts Commission, the governor and state legislature at the State House in Columbia this Wednesday. He will be cited as one the most important active Gullah singers and cultural ambassadors. more

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.”

Mississippi’s Cotton Blossom Singers!

Bailey, Ben E. “The Cotton Blossom Singers: Mississippi’s Black Troubadours,” The Black Perspective in Music 15, no. 2 (1987): 133-152.

Similar in practiceCotton Blossom Singers (1929) to Fisk University and the Jubilee Singers, this article discusses the early history of the Cotton Blossom Singers at Piney Woods Country Life School in Mississippi from about 1921 to the 1940s. Locally, the group was known as the Piney Woods Singers. Their travels, repertoire, radio programs, and their encounters with racism are discussed. A day-by-day account in one week of travel is included. (Author’s abstract, slightly revised)

Spirituals from Alabama

Boyd, Joe Dan. “Judge Jackson: Black Giant of White Spirituals.” Journal of American Folklore 83, no. 330 (1970): 446–51.

Solomon, Olivia, and Jack Solomon, eds. “Honey in the Rock”: The Ruby Pickens Tartt Collection of Religious Folk Songs from Sumter County, Alabama. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1992.

Terrell, Clemmie S. “Spirituals from Alabama.” Journal of American Folklore 43, no. 169 (1930): 322–24.


excerpted from Spirituals: A Multidisciplinary Bibliography for Research and Performance by Kathleen A. Abromeit

photo, “Mardis Mill Falls, #2” by Kerry Sanders