Spirituals are a genre of American folk music that articulate the suffering, longing, and religious passion of African Americans during slavery and its aftermath. Religious hymns, work songs, along with traditional African rhythms and chanting styles all contributed to the development of spirituals. Negro Spirituals are a type of religious songs originating among Black slaves in the American South, usually including a call and response.
Why would spirituals be considered folk? Folk music is created by a community over a period of time and must be understood in the cultural context in which it is collectively composed, adapted, performed, and experienced by audiences. Spirituals are a tradition that falls under this categorization very well and must be understood in the context of the African American slave experience.
During the 18th century, virtually any manifestation of African culture were viewed by whites with fear and suspicion. For this reason, slaves often had to practice these sustaining cultural elements in secret gatherings, sometimes identified as “brush arbor meetings.”
Singing, drumming, and chanting are all deeply important aspects of many different African religions and cultures. These musical elements were retained in spirituals, but were often slowed down mto a dirge-like pace. Frequently, drums were eliminated altogether and spirituals became completely a cappella or accompanied only by clapping.
An example of such music is below:Mahalia Jackson “Trouble of The World”
In my opinion, I enjoy spiritual music when I need a reminder of why I am working hard in life, or for something to lift my spirits up and motivate me.