Negro Spiritual History and More!!

The genre Negro Spiritual started as a way for slaves to talk about what they were going through in their daily lives. The songs also started to become a type of code that slaves used to help other slaves escape to the north so that they can be free. This genre is the earliest known form of religious music developed in black culture. However, it is impossible to put s specific date on when the genre began because the slaves did not write anything down. For this reason, we say that the genre began sometime before 1865. The Negro Spiritual songs were passed down through oral tradition until white men heard the songs and put them into a book called “100 slave songs of the United States.” (The first-ever published book of black music) The men never gave credit to the slaves who wrote the songs, which is why most Negro Spiritual songs do not have an author. The songs eventually were rewritten into concert performances. Fisk University began performing these songs as a kind of tribute to their culture. Many HBCU’s soon followed Fisk University’s footsteps and did the same. To this day, many HBCU’s performed Negro Spirituals on multiple occasions. The commodification of this genre is something that was not expected by most. 

A Negro Spiritual is generally sung slowly at a low active. They express the life of a slave, their distress, and their hope. Once a person listens to some famous Negro Spiritual singers such as Mahalia Jackson and Kathleen Battle, it becomes evident as to why people believe that Gospel music came from the Negro Spiritual genre. Learning about Negro Spirituals can open a person’s mind to things they would never have known. For example, while researching for this post, I found out that there was a Negro Spiritual in The Lion King. I also found out that “Wade in the Water” was originally “Wait in the Water” and was a song used to tell runaway slaves to get in some water so the hounds could not pick up their sent. I would urge every black person to learn as much as they can about this genre so that they can become more connected to the past. 

Mahalia Jackson - Steal Away

Kathleen Battle - Lord How Come Me Here

"Wade in the Water"

Negro Spiritual in The Lion King

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