Negro Spirituals

Songs

100 Slave Songs, the first Negro Spiritual song book in the United States, has provided people with songs and source material for years. Some common negro spirituals are Wade in the Water and Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, but there are so many others. Below are two less commonly known spirituals, Steal Away (left) and Elijah Rock (right).

*This version of Elijah Rock was arranged by Moses Hogan, a famous American composer and arranger of choral music.

Performers

While negro spirituals were composed by the slaves, they have been performed by many artists throughout the years. Mahalia Jackson (left) and was an American gospel singer. She was known as “The Queen of Gospel,” performing negro spirituals and other gospel music up until her death in 1972. Kathleen Battle (right) is an American opera singer. She has performed with many symphony orchestras all throughout her career.

Elements

Negro spirituals are most commonly seen as slow songs, that are a cappella, but that is not always the case. Some negro spirituals do include instruments, and others are performed more quickly than the traditional tempo (reference Elijah Rock above). Negro spirituals that do include instruments and are performed by choirs are known as concert spirituals. 

Impact

Negro spirituals have been monumental to African American music, from encouraging the slaves and leading them to freedom to the transition to gospel music comforting Black people for generations after. Negro spirituals have even been used as source material for various genres of music, the most common being gospel music.