The History of Negro Spirituals and Folk Music

The History of Negro spirituals and Folk music by Kalia Simms and Betanya Mahary 

Negro Spirituals –

Negro Spirituals are religious songs created by black slaves. Spiritual songs are generally composed of European and African musical elements. Slaves were forced to attend church services and through the songs, they would sing their conditions. The words were biblical but the messages were personal because they imagined freedom through the songs. Although slaves were not allowed freedom of expression, they were allowed to engage in certain Eurocentric religious practices, as slave masters felt it was a way to better control them. Little did they know that out of that, would emerge a rich culture riddled with amazing and textured songs that would serve as the soundtrack of some people’s spiritual lives. The key elements of  negro spirituals include call and response which is a stylistic trait that made its way to subsequent genres of music such as the blues and gospel. In some ways, spirituals were a form of resistance because slaves did not want to confirm to the Europeans ways because they kept the African elements.  We say that the negro spiritual was a form of resistance because the history of negro spirituals is closely related to African American history at large. Negro spirituals and its social implications were tied to the abolition of slavery in 1865, the Black Renaissance, and the first MLK Day.  

Negro spirituals have some distinct characteristics that make them identifiable. Some of these characteristics include songs that were typically low, and slow. They were also usually comprised of simple melodies that were repeated throughout the song. They were emotional and indicative of not only the emotional strife slaves had to endure, but their ability to remain hopeful during their most difficult times. The negro spiritual is believed to be the start of all musical genres. They were passionate, melancholy, soulful, gay and and became a collection of music that supplied an outlet for all emotions to be expressed. Negro spirituals laid the groundwork for newer genres of music; especially gospel. As spirituals began to shift from being purely work songs, or purely praise songs, to being integrated into more mainstream media we began to hear and see the artistic expression of the slaves that came decades before us on television, on the radio, and in slave song books. The commodification of these songs was something that its originators never reaped the benefits of.  

Folk Music –

This genre consists types of traditional and cultural musical concepts. It is passed down through families—similar to folk literature and oral tradition, folk music is learned through hearing. It is also known as “rural music” because it is associated with social class.This musical genre shares the narrative of small social groups and it used in various forms across different cultures. In Africa, folk music is way of passing rituals and stories down from generation to generation.The use of folk music varies from culture to culture and the genre was heavily impacted during the rise of industrial cities. Folk music took a shift especially in Europe during World War II to convey messages regarding political agendas and social change.

One of the characteristics of folk music is rhythmic music. Instruments such as banjos and guitars are frequently used. Depending on the region, djembes and drums are also used. Although cultures have distinct styles, they share common features. The folk timbre uses elaborate ornamentation—the words are stressed in the songs and it follows an even tempo. The American folk culture is based on solo singing. Scholars are concerned with folk music because it is a kind of transmission that cannot produce note-for-note accuracy since it is constantly modified as it passes from one generation to the next.

What's your password?

Login to your account

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.