Enslaved Africans were introduced to Christianity in the seventeenth century. Initially, slaves were not entirely receptive to the religion, as it did not align with their own beliefs. However, the slaves became entranced by Biblical stories and how closely they parallelled to their own lives. Africanized Christianity was then embraced by the slave community, and negro spirituals were a fruit of their newfound beliefs.
A ring shout is a lively, unique religious ritual done by African slaves. Worshipers shuffle in a big circle, stomping and clapping. Negro spirituals were sung in these circles. Ring shouts were done by slaves as a way of praising and worshipping God.
A ring shout is a lively, unique religious ritual done by African slaves. Worshipers shuffle in a big circle, stomping and clapping. Negro spirituals were sung in these circles. Ring shouts were done by slaves as a way of praising and worshiping God.
Call & Response
Call & response is a sequence of two distinct phrases, in which the singer projects a phrase, followed by the listener offering another phrase in response. Call & response songs were purposed for both information and leisure purposes.
Wallis Willis was a freedman living in Choctaw Indian territory near Hugo, Oklahoma. Willis is credited for the compositions of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “Steal Away to Jesus”, and more. He was discovered by Reverend Alexander Reid of Spencer Academy, who sent Willis’ songs to be performed by the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University.
Harry T. Burleigh was an African American composer known for his arrangements of spirituals. Burleigh gained fame when he began to publish different versions of the spiritual “Deep River”. He made spirituals suitable for concert singers and popularized the genre overall.
Much like other things slaves created, negro spirituals were eventually commodified with no credit to those who created them. Books of negro spirituals were compiled and sold with no information as to who originally composed them.
Influence on Future Genres
From negro spirituals came a genre that is a staple of the black community, gospel. Gospel songs are essentially modernized negro spirituals, as they embody the same concepts of resilience through struggle, hope for better days, and utter praise of God.
Negro spirituals are a representation of black peoples’ refusal to be broken down. When Africans were brought to America, Christianity was forced onto them. However, they took the religion and not only made it their own, but also inspired a nation. Negro spirituals were the catalyst for an entirely new way of praise & worship and a huge cultural contribution.