From Negro Spirituals to Gospel Music

From Negro Spiritual to Gospel Music

Negro Spirituals played a prevalent role in slavery and African American religion. In 1860, slave owners liked to control everything their slaves said, did, and believed. They forced Christianity on slaves and manipulated the religion and music to justify slavery. This justification and manipulation led to a new genre of music that is still appreciated today. 

Once they caught onto the way their masters were changing the word, slaves began to do the same with music to contain codes and secret messages. These spirituals were everything to slaves. “This genre symbolized the slave population’s unique expression of Christian religious values and ideals tempered by the social, cultural, and physical experience of prolonged involuntary servitude.” (pg. 88). They were adapted to reflect the labor on plantations and acted as acts of protests. The original style of the spirituals was call-response. “A pattern of musical organization that was ubiquitous in the regions of West and Central Africa from which the slave population originated.” (pg. 88). 

Negro spirituals evolved from call-response to clapping and stomping. This genre of music is known as folk spirituals. “Folk spirituals were typically accompanied only by hand claps and foot stomps, which complemented the singing with a percussive timbral quality reminiscent of drumming. Bans on the use of loud musical instruments, especially drums, which could be used as signaling devices, did not succeed in eliminating the percussive dimension so highly valued in African music.” (Pg. 94).

These are the same movements used in black churches today. Folk Spirituals then evolved to ring shout: a form of folk spiritual characterized by leader-chorus antiphonal singing, hand clapping and other percussion, which incorporates high stylized religious dance. Today, this style of music is known as Praise and worship which is typically accompanied by the “two step”. 

Gospel shows itself to have an evident and linear evolution throughout American History. Though Christianity’s origins in the black community are often associated with violence, it has become an essential element to our culture and ideals. The growth from negro spiritual to gospel music is inspirational and encouraging to black people and our history. 

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