What are Negro Spirituals?

Negro Spirituals was one of the first genres to be born in the United States. It was created in slavery times by African American slaves. Symbolizing home and resistance to slavery, Negro Spirituals were the first songs that included religion. Negro Spirituals articulated the struggle of slavery and were most often slow. Negro Spirituals were born along the same time as folk music however Negro Spirituals were religious instead of secular. Slaves were often forced to attend churches and other religious ceremonies so Negro Spirituals were a result of these circumstances. These songs were filled with emotion and echoed the slaves’ struggles in a religious light. 

Negro Spirituals had many elements to them. One of these elements was the call and response structure. Many negro spirituals included a sort of echoing where one person starts something and others will respond with the same or a a variation of the original thought.  

Once slaves were freed in 1850, Negro Spirituals began to pick up speed and traction. Many important artists emerged into the limelight representing this genre. One of these artists is Marian Anderson. Marian Anderson paved the way for black people and specifically black women to make their way in the world. 

Another famous negro spiritual singer was Mahalia Jackson. A video of her singing is depicted below. Although Negro Spirituals are not at the same popularity now, they live on in other forms. As religious music, Negro Spirituals transformed into a faster genre called Jubilee Quartets, and eventually had some impact on Gospel music. 

Popular Negro Spiritual Artists include: 

  • Mahalia Jackson
  • Marian Anderson
  • Moses Hogan
  • R. Nathaniel Dett
  • William Levi Dawson
  • Ella Jenkins



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