Negro Spirituals

The Negro Spiritual

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot 

Coming for to Carry me home

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Coming For to Carry me home 

Culturally, the Negro Spiritual is black people’s classical music. I enjoy listening to spirituals because I feel the most connected to them. A spiritual is a type of religious folksong created by enslaved Africans during the 500-year reign of slavery. Enslaved Africans encoded messages, sang grievances, and sang praise to God.  At the same time, they were attempting to assimilate into the white Christian culture. They kept a piece of themselves in the music they created. They would use their broken English and creative minds to encrypt messages such as the freedom land (the north), the devil, or Pharoah (the master, slavery). Many other remixes provide the negro spiritual with what it needed to flourish. Now, I understand why it is so imperative to talk about spirituals.  Throughout the years, it has been the foundation for all of our music to this day. 

During slave times, masters often ensured that slaves never gathered to sing their songs collectively because they were worried about a slave rebellion. However, the enslaved Africans persevered and created their own version of Christianity through spirituals. As stated before, they had religious and practical values that could stand the test of time. When slavery ended, there was a publication of 100 Slave Songs. While they could be written down, most spiritual practices are passed down from generation to generation between communities. This sparked an idea among people to start singing some of the songs from the book in concert settings.

Fisk University created the first ensemble to start singing negro spirituals. They called themselves the Jubilee Singers. The group sparked international curiosity in the art form. For years, no one could rival the jubilee singers. In the past, the singers of the Hampton Insititute (now known as Hampton University), were one of the first ensembles to began to rival against the sheer prowess of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers. 


Spirituals Vs Hymns

Spiritual: The religious music of African Americans during slavery

Hymn: Metrical compositions in strophic form, typically eight bars of rhythmic couplets, loosely based on scripture

Key Terms

Great Awakening: Period of religious revival that swept the American colonies in the mid-eighteenth century.

The Invisible Church: Clandestine gatherings in spaces designated for purposes other than worship. Slaves worshipped in secret, often in defiance of laws that prohibited their assembly without White supervision.


Ring Shout 

A form of folk spiritual characterized by leader-chorus antiphonal singing, hand clapping, and another percussion, which incorporates highly stylized religious dance as participants move in a counterclockwise circle.

Arranged Concert Spirituals for Solo Voice

Arranged Concert Spiritual for a Choir

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