Negro spirituals are a type of folk genre that was born during the enslavement of African Americans. African culture and the Great Englightenment heavily influenced Black spirituals. Negro spirituals were a way for enslaved African Americans to remain connected to their African ancestry and culture while embracing aspects of their new reality. Once the enslaved population was free, the negro spiritual continued, mainly because of the different singing groups at various HBCUs.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers were a popular singing group at Fisk University who preserved the tradition of ‘slave songs’ or spirituals as we know them today. The group was formed in 1871 and toured the country and internationally to raise money for the University. Unfortunately, many Black Americans associated Negro spirituals with slavery. Therefore, they believed they should remain in the past. Still, the Jubilee singers convinced many Black Americans and much of the world that spirituals were vital for African American history and should be preserved. The Fisk Jubilee singers continue the tradition of singing spirituals to this day.
The Hampton singers were another HBCU singing group formed in 1873 who toured the country and abroad singing negro spirituals to raise money for Hampton University. The Jubilee and Hampton singers preserved a connection between African Americans and the tradition of slave songs. However, they were unique as they did not perform a minstrelsy of African American music. Instead, they sincerely presented Negro Spirituals as an essential part of American history and culture.
The Jubilee Singers and Hampton singers were the first groups to perform spirituals in concert halls. Because of them, classical composers further arranged spirituals, and classically trained singers included spirituals in their repertoires, and their spotlight in large concert halls continued.