African American Negro Spirituals

What are Negro Spirituals?

Negro spirituals are songs created by Africans who were brought to America to be enslaved against their will. Although they had their language, families, and cultures taken away from them, they still held on to their music. The singing and creation of Negro spirituals was very important to the enslaved people because it aided them in overcoming their oppression. The singing of these songs also reflected the enslaved people’s need to express their newfound faith. Not only were spirituals used to uplift the slaves, but they also used them to communicate with each other without their master knowing.




Characteristics of Negro Spirituals

Spirituals can fall into 3 different categories:

Call and response: This is when a leader sings the first line and then it is repeated back by a chorus. ex. ( “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Go Down Moses”)


Slow and melodic: this type of spiritual is typically expressed with sustained, and meaningful phrasing, generally done in a slower tempo.


Fast and Rhythmic: these songs usually tell a story in a faster rhythm and also uses syncopation. ex. (“Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”)

How dance was incorporated

Those who engaged in the singing and performance of negro spirituals during slavery incorporated a style of a celebratory group circle dance. This dance was referred to as the shout, ring shout, or “running spirchil.” This form of expression was characterized by members of the group who formed a circle, with the center being the performance space, and began to move in a counterclockwise shuffling motion. These dances were performed both indoors and out, and their purpose was most often done to express praise during worship. 

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