The History of Negro Spirituals/Folk Music

Negro Spirituals are songs that were sung by African American Christians during slavery. They were christian songs that also talked about the hard times they endured during slavery. Spirituals came about in the 1800’s. They were originated in the United States when slaves came over to the new world and Africans converted over to Christianity. They would sing spirituals to verbalize religious faith. Slaves would go to church and sing spirituals in unison and they would add their cultural characteristics such as dancing and playing drums that their masters had forbid.  A commodity of being a slave at the time is that slave masters would let some slaves sing. Due to that they would sing spirituals that there slave owners did not understand but other slaves did. As slavery went on slaves used to spirituals to communicate with other slaves in a way that their masters would not understand. During the Underground Railroad slaves would sing songs such as “Wade in the Water” to direct slaves how to escape without being caught, and Follow the Drink Gourd” was a spiritual that mapped out the Underground Railroad.

Social implications that can come from spirituals may be that slaves sung spirituals back then so that today we can listen to the message that was being given about the hard times they went through with slavery. They were portraying a message about being free that helped African Americans over time. Spirituals went hand in hand with the elimination of slavery all the way up to the freedom or rights.

There is no exact year but the first collection of negro spirituals was published in 1867. But some important performers are the Fisk Jubilee Singers who were first known as the “Colored Christian Singers.” The Fisk Jubilee Singers were founded at Fisk University. The group composed of nine members. Harry T. Burleigh was acknowledged for “starting the practice of closing recitals with a group of spirituals” (Burnim & Maultsby.) And Marian Anderson who was the first African American singer at the Metropolitan Opera.





Spirituals are a big influence on a lot of genres of music. Spirituals started it all and without them there is no telling what music would be like today. In spirituals slaves gave a message and because of that when you listen to music today someone is always sending a message through a song. Spirituals was a way for the slaves to express themselves and today artist everywhere express themselves through their music. Spirituals started in black churches and now when you listen to gospel music they are giving religious messages. Gospel music “has preserved the lyrics of many spirituals.” (Library of Congress)

Spirituals were the start of i all. They made a way for other genres of music. If someone was to tell me that spirituals had no purpose on music today they would be very wrong. Like I stated before without spirituals there is no clue was music would be like today. There would not be any messages behind music. I really appreciate what our ancestors have done. They have made a way for others to express themselves and tell a story through song.

Fisk Jubilee Singers – Wade in the Water

Fisk Jubilee Singers – Swing Low Sweet Chariot

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