Origin

Negro spirituals were created by blacks during the time of enslavement. African music and religion was banned, to push Christianity. Slaves adapted using Christian music to express themselves and their faith. 

Characteristics

The songs were sung most famously by salves who were in the field working. The songs expressed their sorrows of a dreadful life through call and response. The only instruments used were the voices of the singers bearing their sorrowful songs in unison. Some spirituals were used as communication, like a code between slaves.

Social implication

Spirituals brought the slaves together, giving strength to push through. They also made way for many escapes to freedom. These spirituals allowed for slaves to communicate freely without alarming the masters

Commodification

Black didn’t compose or write down any negro spirituals, in the 1860s white men took the liberty of writing down the songs as sheet music, profiting from music they did not create.

Influences

Negro spirituals were influenced by Christian music and rhetoric. Negro spirituals were the beginning of a musical presence in the Americas that would grow and evolve throughout centuries. Jubilee quartet was born from the composition of negro spirituals. Gospel music kept the lyrics of the spirituals giving the songs a different musical form.

The first black group to sing negro spirituals commercially were the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the late 19th century, they went on tour to raise money for their school. They performed all over, as far as touring in Europe.

Group photograph of Fisk Jubilee Singers

Conclusory opinions

Spirituals were for strength, faith and communication. These powerful, sorrow filled songs have lived on through different musical eras while the lyrics have stayed the same. Slaves never profited from their songs, but many did gain their freedom because of them.