Negro Spirituals were songs sung by slaves in the early 1800s and are recognized as the earliest form of religious music among African Americans. Slaves used these spirituals to express their religious faith, feelings, celebration, and the hope they had of getting to freedom. Slaves added elements like hand clapping and body movement to further express themselves through their songs. Although there is no known exact date associated with the origin, it credited to the conversion of enslaved people to Christianity after the Great Awakening.
Many spirituals also functioned as codes and were used as another way to communicate amongst each other safely. SOngs were used to give directions to the underground railroad and other means to escape. Spirituals contained verses from the bible and were a reflection of their daily experiences. These songs were also known as “African work songs.” They outlined the challenges of their daily life while also providing hope for better days in the future. Often they were slow and melancholic, reflecting their struggles by way of telling a story.
Important performers include Marian Anderson and Harry T. Burleigh. Spirituals were later commodified when a trio of white abolitionists published a book of negro spirituals.