Negro Spirituals: The Voices That Keep it Alive

Negro Spirituals are an important aspect of the African American culture. This genre does not have a specific start date but became popular during the Great Awakening. Due to the enslaved not being able to attend church with their masters this caused them to form their own style of worship. Negro Spirituals are typically about longing and praying to God for freedom. Some examples of Negro Spirituals are, Wade in the Water, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, and Deep River. The lyrics in Deep River read “deep river my home is over Jordan, deep river lord I want to cross over into campground, don’t you want to go to that gospel feast that promise land where all is peace”. This can be interpreted in two ways, the first is becoming free, and the second is going to heaven. 


Due to the growing popularity of Negro Spirituals, this caused white people to catch on. In 1867 abolitionists William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison published the first book of Negro Spirituals/ Slave Songs. This began the commodification of Negro Spirituals. The enslaved were never given compensation or credit for these spirituals, they were then known for white entertainment. Fast forward to modern day African Americans have taken back Negro Spirituals. Singers such as Marian Anderson, Jessye Norman, and Kathleen Battle have sung Negro Spirituals to acknowledge our enslaved ancestors and how far we have come. These women along with other black arrangers and composers have helped keep Negro Spirituals alive and thriving. As a young singer I was introduced to Kathleen Battle at an early age. I was inspired and empowered by her interpretation of the Negro Spirituals. I believe it is essential that African Americans keep our legacy alive and help inspire the younger generation to continue to tell our story. 

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