Negro Spirituals: Popular Spirituals

by Leilany Reyes and Quinci Nesbitt


what are Negro Spirituals? Negro Spirituals are a religious song of a kind associated with black Christians of the southern US, and thought to derive from the combination of European hymns and African musical elements by black slaves. As time went on, Negro Spirituals morphed into what is known today as Gospel music. Today, most Negro Spirituals are still sung within the church despite being modernized. As you know some of the most popular songs we sing are Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Wade in the water, Go Down Moses ; just to name a few. Now that were in the 21st century, I have a fond appreciation of African American music because you can still hear the call and response deriving from the early origin of Negro Spirituals.

A spiritual is a type of religious folk song that is most closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American South. The songs proliferated in the last few decades of the eighteenth century leading up to the abolishment of legalized slavery in the 1860s. A cappella arrangements of spirituals for choruses by such noted composers as Moses Hogan, Roland Carter, Jester Hairston, Brazeal Dennard and Wendell Whalum have taken the musical form beyond its traditional folk song roots in the twentieth century. In Africa, music had been central to people’s lives: Music making permeated important life events and daily activities. However, the white colonists of North America were alarmed by and frowned upon the slaves’ African-infused way of worship because they considered it to be idolatrous and wild. As a result, the gatherings were often banned and had to be conducted in a clandestine manner.

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