The transatlantic slave trade was a dark time for enslaved Africans, as colonizers attempted to strip them of everything that pertains to the human experience: family, individuality, culture, and music. During this time, Black people fought to maintain a distinct culture, creating many new forms of art. The sacred music that enslaved Africans developed during this time were known as Negro Spirituals. Negro Spirituals allowed enslaved people to reclaim their power, and express hope within a melancholy situation.
Characteristics: Negro Spirituals typically use call and response form. There is a leader, who performs more improvisational material, and a chorus. In later forms of Negro Spirituals, such as concert spirituals, the chorus would sing in parts. In addition, later spiritual arrangements would contain piano, both solo and accompanying voice.
This led to the performance of Negro Spirituals on the concert stage. The first written account of Negro Spirituals was recorded in the book “100 Slave Songs of the United States”. Negro Spirituals would go on to influence the Jubilee Quartet tradition, which would put a beat to traditional Spirituals.
Artists & Composers
Marian Anderson (1897 - 1993) was an African American singer who broke down many barriers for black artists to come, singing in traditionally white spaces, such as the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson sang both classical repertoire and Negro Spirituals, such as "Deep River" and "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands".
Harry T. Burleigh (1866 - 1949) was a renowned African American composer and arranger. Burleigh, a classically trained Baritone, brought Negro Spirituals to a more classical form. Some of his famous arrangements include "Deep River" and "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child".
Mahalia Jackson (1911 - 1972) was a dynamic gospel singer heralded as "The Queen of Gospel". Jackson was not only a musician, but an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. A large component of her repertoire was Negro Spirituals, such as "Roll Jordan Roll".