Negro Spirituals originate from slavery. They cover many emotions ranging from hope to sorrow. Negro spirituals have a strong tempo which kept everyone in the field working at the same rate, since they were forced to sing. The spirituals involved some call and response singing as well as hand clapping, dancing and even shouting. The slaves were expressing themselves in every way they could.
When observing the Europeans’ religion, the African slaves looked further than what they were told and applied the stories of the bible to their lives. The Bible often talks about different “inferior” people overcoming their situations, and that gave the Africans a sense of hope. When the African slaves sang some Negro Spirituals, such as Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, they were singing with a hope of the day that they would be free. On the other hand, the Negro Spirituals also speak of their sorrow and pain as they would communicate with each other to reach their freedom in songs like, Go Down, Moses and Wade in the Water.
That being said, not all of the spirituals were appreciated. Slave owners did not like Go Down Moses due to its recurring line “Let My People Go”. Negro Spirituals are songs composed of difficult experiences, yet taken with a grain of hope due to a faith. Authentic negro spirituals have been passed down through generations, however white Americans wrote down their interpretation of the songs and have been profiting from them ever since. Spirituals have had a tremendous impact on music. There have been incredible artists such as Marian Anderson and Harry T. Burleigh who interpreted negro spirituals. Those interpretations as well as the voices of the slaves were the foundation of not only jubilee quartets but also the constantly evolving gospel genre.
When we hear Negro Spirituals sung, especially in church, it moves people in a unique way. At my Church, every year for the Black History Month Celebration we would sing “I open my mouth unto the Lord, and I won’t turn back…”. This song reminds us to be aware of our ancestors’ hardships, but also to keep moving forward. Negro Spirituals are bittersweet, as they remind us of how far we have come, but also how far we have to go.
Written By: Jasmine & Kayla