Spirituals, also known as “Negro Spirituals” was a style of music that consisted of religious folksongs that described the pain of slavery. Created by enslaved African Americans in the eighteenth century up until the abolition of slavery in the 1860s, negro spirituals were considered an oral tradition that imparted important Christian values. The slaves would gather in the woods at night, where it was safe, to express their true feelings of fear, pain, and suffering through song.
Negro Spirituals were commonly sung in call and response form, where one person says a phrase that is directly commented on by other singers. Despite the spiritual songs containing the constant struggles of the slave that make them melancholic, spirituals also had joyful music. For example, the song “Fare Ye Well”.
Spirituals were also present during the Underground Railroad. Spirituals “Wade in the Water” and “Deep River” were used by conductor Harriet Tubman to signal that they would be traveling by water. In addition, songs like “Steal Away” and “I got my ticket” were often sung to alert slaves of an attempt to run for freedom.