Negro Spirituals- The Beginning

Negro spirituals created pathways for multiple genres of black music today. The themes of call and response, improvisation, group singing, distinct African beats, etc. are reflected in genres such as R&B and hip-hop. The history of the genre derives from the painful past of African American people, and it represented their coping mechanism to endure the hardships of enslavement. Various instruments that were used included drums (djembe), banjos, bodies, and gourds, not to mention vocals. Negro Spirituals were inspired by a fusion of the music and culture Africans brought to the states from their respective countries, and the hymns they heard while in church.

An example of people who sing Negro Spirituals are the Fisk Jubilee singers, students at Fisk University, who formed their group in 1871. They toured the north eastern United States to raise funds for their institution. Their performances became popular because of their public displays of spirituals which were usually somewhat private and sung in the home, as well as the public’s fascination with ‘genuine’ negroes singing instead of white people in blackface. Their 1909 recording of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot became one of their most well known performances. As the earliest known religious genre of music known to the African American community, most current genres derived from the African American community would not be nearly the same without the development and preservation of the Negro Spiritual.


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