The Evolution of Negro Spirituals: Ring Shout!
The concept of ring shout has evolved through time, and it is still prevalent today through groups and churches. Ring Shout is a form of negro spiritual that expresses the Christian religion in unique ways. It is a form of folk spiritual characterized by leader-chorus antiphonal singing, highly stylized religious dance as participants move in a counter-clockwise circle, hand clapping, and other percussion.
The great awakening was a prerequisite for the birthing of the Negro spiritual. This was a period of religious regeneration that swept the American colonies in the mid-eighteenth century, which introduced Christianity to many. Slaves were mixed into the Christianity population. They worshipped in secret due to the fact that they were prohibited from forming their own assembly without White supervision.
In the U.S, churches prohibited drumming and dancing which ruled out most religious dances especially from African descent. Since the ring shouting generally did not use musical instruments other than clamping and stomping, it was allowed in churches after the formal worship.
As the tradition developed in slavery times, strong elements of Christian belief were grafted onto it. The ring shout was first described in detail during the Civil War (1861-65) by outside observers in coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia.
Persevering the Culture
The McIntosh County Singers
This group rediscovered ring shouting. They first began performing in the 1980s. They have been shouting for over 80 years. In 1993 the group was awarded the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2010, it received a Governor's Award in the Humanities. In 2017, the shouters released a new album, Spirituals & Shout Songs from the Georgia Coast, under the Smithsonian Folkways label. The group also performed at the 2016 opening of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Today, their performances include touring schools, festivals, and churches. More specifically, they performed at the National Black Arts Festival, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, World Music Institute, etc. They keep the spirit of the ring shout going.
The Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters
This group of shouters began performing in 1992. They are committed to embracing, preserving, and protecting the historical and cultural heritage of the Gullah Geechee legacy. All members of the group are direct descendants from slavery in America. The Shouters’ cultural goal is to keep the original “shout” as authentic from 1800 to the present. In 2011, the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters from Darien, Georgia set the world record as the largest Ring Shout in the world.
Ring shouting has had a huge impact on African Americans. It was a way for slaves to express themselves safely. The ring shout brought joy and spirit to those who participated. Moreover, it is still prominent. Today, many black churches utilize ring shouting in what is called a “praise break”. A modern form of ring shouting is calling “shout”. This includes a person moving in a circle while simultaneously stomping their feet, clasping, and shouting, which are all concepts of ring shouting.
“McIntosh County Shouters.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/mcintosh-county-shouters.
The Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters (912) 571-9014, www.geecheegullahringshouters.com/.
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