Negro Spirituals are a sacred part of African-American culture. Singing was used by the slaves as a form of expression and relief from the physical and mental battles they were put through. Songs such as “Hold on” and “I’ll shall not be moved” are about keeping faith in God and trusting that he’ll give you strength and courage to keep going.
Praising God through singing and dancing was a form of therapy for the slaves. The words were biblical but the meaning was very personal to what they were enduring on a daily basis. Creating music gave them something to believe in, something to call their own, and it gave them hope. To this day spirituality is an important part of African-American culture. Just like our ancestors, many men and women turn to worship for relief and guidance. Being able to sing gave the slaves the strength they needed to survive another day.
Artists like Paul Robeson, Odetta, and Roland Hayes were pivotal to Negro Spirituals. Paul Robeson was a singer and actor who became involved with the Civil rights movement. He was a football player, singer, and actor at Rutgers college and eventually went on to attend Columbia University. After graduating he became a figure in the Harlem Renissance. Between 1925 and 1961, Robeson recorded and released some 276 distinct songs. Through his music, Robeson’s political stances were shown in songs such as “The Little Pickaninny’s Gone to Sleep” (1928) and “Old Folks Home” (1930).
The song “Go Down Moses” while alluding to biblical references, expressed the sentiments and Blacks feelings toward there treatment at the time.
When Israel was in Egypt land, Let my people go! African Americans in the New World, let my black people go!
Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let my people go! Physically and mentally oppressing us. Through whips, lynching, a lack of financial freedom. Let my people go!
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land, tell old Pharaoh to let my people go! Tell them white people who are referred to as “Masta” to let my people go!
Songs expressing Blacks conditions are still used today. While songs before had covered up lyrics for deeper meanings, songs today like “F*** the Police, Freedom, Black Rage” are songs that speak what cannot be expressed.
Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move
Freedom, cut me loose!
Freedom! Freedom! Where are you?
Cause I need freedom too!
I break chains all by myself
Won’t let my freedom rot in hell
Hey! I’ma keep running
Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves
“Music, speaks what cannot be expressed soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul” – unknown