Spirituals are described as religious music from African Americans during slavery, being the earliest form of religious music of them. It was the expression of Christian faith during involuntary servitude.  Its defining structures were call-response, hand clapping and body movement. Hymns were bars of rhyming couplets, somewhat based on the Bible. Spirituals conveyed their desire to be free.

During the Great Awakening of 1740, many slaves converted to Christianity and became their own church families. If they were not being supervised by white people, then it was against the law. Slaves developed invisible churches, where they secretly worshipped without supervision.

Many elements of Negro spirituals are similar to contemporary African American worship music, such as communal singing, prayer, and testimonies. Their prayers ranged from regular speech to singing. Their singing was accompanied by shouting, hand clapping and body movements, and religious dances. They emphasized verbal affirmations and communal participation. In ecstatic worship, they expressed themselves in altered forms. Sometimes the Holy Spirit moved them to yell, cry, collapse, run around, and dance.

Folk spirituals, a product of the antebellum South, were the earliest form of a cappella religious music of African Americans. They were characterized by call-response and leader-chorus. It was also accompanied by hand claps and foot stomps, especially because the use of loud instruments, like the drums, was banned by law. McIntosh Shouters used broomsticks and struck them against hardwood floors as a substitution for drums. The first published collection of spirituals was the Slave Songs of the United States of 1867.

Ring shout, also called “the shout” or “running spirchil”, was a form of folk spiritual music. It included elements like antiphonal singing, hand clapping, and a religious dance described as shuffling in a counterclockwise circle. It was known for repetition, varying tempos, and sliding notes. It is similar to the Sea Islands in the 1960s. It was known to exist in southern states such as the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, and was exclusive to Black Baptists and Methodists.