The Origin of Negro Spirituals: Slavery to Calvary

The origins of Negro Spirituals began in the 1860’s after the spread of Christianity across the plantation. As slaves, many Africans were forced to adopt the Christian religion which acted as one step closer to them assimilating to Western culture and forgetting the remnants of their native home. One of the times that slaves were allowed to gather together was when they went to church, this was a time for them to be fully expressive in their “faith.” Additionally, not only did Negro Spirituals serve as songs to uplift and give slaves hope, but they as served as encrypted messages that lead slaves to freedom. One of the most notable encrypted songs that the slaves composed and sang was Wade in the Water. It is alleged that Harriet Tubman use to sing this song when leading many slaves to freedom because in the song, it tells slaves to make sure to travel through the water so the dogs won’t smell them when masters were searching for the runaway slaves. 

Linked above is a clip of Spelman College’s Glee Club singing Wade in the Water arranged by Kevin Johnson. 

One type of Negro Spiritual that is often arranged and performed now is called concert spirituals. Concert spirituals differ from the earlier negro spirituals because they tend to have a larger choir, accompanied with instruments and different arrangements. Popular concert spiritual choirs are the Moses Hogan Chorale, The Master’s College Chorale and of course the Spelman College Glee Club. 

Negro Spirituals continue to be a foundation of music in the African American community. Other genres like Jubliee Quartets, Gospel and Blues have made their own arrangements of Negro Spirituals. The messages of the slaves have transcended into something that will be continued to be arranged for years to come. 

 

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