The Differences Between Negro and White Spirituals.

by Darlene Nawuridam and Wynda Lee

Definition of Negro Spirituals

Definition of White Spirituals

Negro spiritual is a genre of religious folksong that is most closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American South. The genre was created in the 1860s leading up to the abolishment of slavery. Negro spirituals represent one of the largest and most significant forms of American folksong.

White spiritual is a genre that includes camp meeting songs, hymns, and religious ballads. The genre came to light in the 1930s when George Pullen Jackson, a professor at Vanderbilt University, published the book White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands.


Where is the term "spiritual" derived from?

The term “spiritual” is derived from the King James Bible translation of Ephesians 5:19 “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

“Wade in the Water,” a Negro Spiritual sang by Sweet Honey in The Rock.

Differences Between Negro and White Spirituals.

Negro Spirituals.

Microtonally flatted notes, syncopation, and counter-rhythms marked by hand-clapping are used in Black spiritual performances. Black spiritual singing also stands out for the singer’s vocal timbre that includes shouting, exclamations of words, and raspy and shrill falsetto sounds. 

White Spirituals.

White spirituals share symbolism, some musical elements and are somewhat of a common origin with African American spirituals. However, they omit hand-clapping. Instead, they include either a group of people singing in harmony acapella or a person singing and accompanied by an instrument such as the banjo. 

“Roll Jordan Roll,” an example of a Negro Spiritual sung with clapping and stomping. 

“I’ll Fly Away,” a white spiritual composed by Albert E. Brumley and being performed by Alan Jackson.

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