Negro Spirituals- The Songs of Our Ancestors

Negro Spirituals expressed the many experiences of African-Americans during their time of enslavement. Originating during slavery, these spirituals songs, but they were used as a call to other slaves. Thus, one of the characteristics of the genre is call-and-response. The incorporation of singing, clapping, and dancing in these compositions is known as ring shout. As testaments of the daily lives of slaves, a common theme of these songs was looking towards the future, which meant the eventual abolition of slavery and hopeful return back to Africa.

While the genesis of the genre was during slavery, these coinage of these slave songs as Negro Spirituals did not occur until after the Civil War. The songs were later written down and published by White abolitionists, which is problematic in so many ways. Although they supported the abolition of slavery, what makes you feel as though you have the right to record the stories of a group of people who were taken from their land, torn apart from their families, and abused? But, as usual, these White abolitionists profited off of this Black work. The genre ultimately influenced the creation of gospel music. Important Negro Spiritual artists include Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson.

Although Negro Spirituals are often not sung today, they have not been forgotten. The struggles of our people are evident every day, but our triumphs can’t be overlooked. We have endured much, but have always turned life’s lemons into lemonade. May we always remember the message behind why we sing.



-Ivorie Farley-Cook



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