Negro Spirituals

What is a Negro Spiritual and where did they come from?

Negro spirituals are the religious songs and music that were sung and created during slavery. The songs were mainly strutted in a call-and-response structure and they represented Christian Ideals and values. Many of the enslaved people were converted to Christianity when they were brought over, known as the Great Awakening, and that is why a large portion of negro spirituals are religious. When these spirituals were originally created, there was no real structure to follow and they just improvised as they sang. These songs not only represented Christianity, but also the little bit of freedom that the enslaved did have, they were able to be free through song and dance that also helped them stay connected to their roots and culture.

Where were Negro Spirituals heard?

Negro spirituals were used as a from of expression and communication between those brought over from Africa. So, naturally the only place to really hear spirituals were on a plantation. However, because spirituals were religious it was very common to also hear them in church services held by the enslsved.  During this time since the gathering of black people was illegal, these religious gatherings were very risky. Black churches began to thrive where they were able to express themselves in whatever they wanted. They became known as invisible church where slaves would worship in secret. Many of these songs had double meanings to them and that is how they communicated without the knowledge of any white person.

These singing of these songs was not the only element to Negro Spirituals. Performing practices began to develop and soon became a normal part of negro spirituals. Ring shouts are a form of folk spiritual characterized by leader-chorus antiphonal singing, hand clapping, and other percussion, which incorporated stylized religious dance as participants move in a counterclockwise circle (pg. 94). Ring shouts were a form of worship and helped influence the genre of music that we now call Folk Spiritual.

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