The Foundation of Black Music: The Negro Spiritual

The Negro Spiritual, commonly known as the African American Spiritual, can be traced back to the times of Trans-Atlantic slavery. Enslaved Africans would create these forms of music for a plethora of reasons and variations of the music is still widely known in Black communities.

History of the Negro Spiritual

The Negro spiritual did not come to be out of thin air, there were many factors that went into the formation of this genre of music. Before being forced to come to what would eventually become America, music was a vibrent part of African culture. In African culture different forms of music were woven into numerous parts of life. As a result of this it was one of the few ways slaves tried to cling onto every piece of their culture.  

Negro Spirituals and Religion

When slaves were forced to leave their homes and were brought to America, they were forced of all culture and religion that was known to them. They were forced to assimilate to western ways and take up the sect of Christianity to which their masters belonged. Slaves were forced to meet in secret to practice the religion they wanted and plantation owners made it difficult to do so. Often times, slave gatherings were facilitated by a white male. A way of continuing their traditions from home was by song. Slaves would often improvise songs and from that came the religious negro spiritual.

Negro Spirituals and Resistance

As slavery progressed, enslaved men and women found ways to resist against their captures and one of the many was was through song. This presented its self in numerous ways. Slaves often were forced to forget their history as well as not educate their youth. As an alternative, female slaves often told their history in the form of Spirituals to their children. Another from of this resistance was chanting and singing the spirituals while doing labor. Slaves would often from call and response music while working to directly defy the masters orders. Finally, one of the monumental ways Spirituals were used was as a plan for escape. Slaves would use metaphors to describe escape plans. These spirituals were often in ‘code’ so the white people listening would not catch onto a plan. Negro spirituals were a large part of every day slave life. 

Negro Spirituals During the Modern Era

Negro Spirituals did not end with slavery. They have crossed over and become a rich part of African American culture. Negro Spirituals are often sung in Black Churches and are a huge part of Black worship in general. It is important to teach the history of negro spirituals because of where they came from and all the sacrifice and pain that went into creating the music. Today, the Negro spiritual still remains true and is present all over the country. 

Works Cited

https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197495/

https://blackmusicscholar.com/the-great-awakening-birth-of-the-negro-spiritual/