The Negro Spiritual Database

What are Negro Spirituals? 

– Negro Spirituals are songs that were created by the slaves from African who got everything taken from them. Their families, languages, and culture- but the one thing that could not be stolen away was their love for music. 

– Throughout the years they adopted the sounds and meanings of Christianity which was the main influence for the songs that they created. These songs came to be known as Spirituals to signify the fact that they needed to keep the faith through all the hardships. 

 

 

The 3 categories of the Spiritual genre 

  1. Call and Response- “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (A leader starts the song and the chorus then responds often sung at a fast tempo)
  2. Slow and melodic- “Calvary”(Songs with expressive and long drawn out phrasing with a slower beat)
  3. Fast and rhythmic- “Ev’ry time I feel the spirit” (Songs that often tell tell a story in faster rhythm)

The rhythms and beats of these songs are what held the most weight opposed to the lyrics and the pronunciation of  their words. They altered Vernacular English to fit their sound. Some examples are

Heaven – Heav’n, Heb’n, Heb’mRiver Jordan – Riber Jerd’nmourner – mo’ner
Children – chillun, chil’n, childunmy – ma, m’there – dere
for – ferMorning – mornin’more – mo’
the – dereligion – ‘ligiongoing to – gwine, gon-ter
Jubilee – Juberleeand – ‘n’, an’get – git
Jubilee Singers from Fisk University

Hall Johnson began the Hall Johnson Negro Choir of September 1925 to rejoice and recognize the unique art of how slaves were able to create and compose their own music even through tribulations. Over the years he became familiar with other composers like:

  • Robert Nathaniel Dett.       
  • William Levi Dawson
  • Eva Jessye 
  • Moses Hogan 
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