The Soul Behind Negro Spirituals

Book Cover

Despite contrary belief, black people possess some of the most poise, elegance, and grace. Exemplified in the arts and in everyday interactions, this grace is extended when being applied in telling the stories of our ancestors. Negro Spirituals encompass the stories of enslaved Africans and their tribulations during the transatlantic and domestic slave trade. I have memories of singing a negro spiritual on stage in a play in high school without the knowledge of it until later on: Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. Musical components of Negro Spirituals include call and response, layered entrances, the use of the body as an instrument, cultural reckoning syncopation, and ring-shout.

Some Negro Spirituals you may be familiar with include Follow the Drinking Gourd, Children Go Where I Send Thee, Wade in the Water, and Nobody Know The Trouble I’ve Seen.

Book Cover

Negro spirituals are largely religious. This is due to the fact that public and community worship were both prohibited for enslaved Africans. In this vein, blacks were able to come together to engage in songs that they had to commit to memory. They were also able to participate with each other musically, learning more about their individual musical styles and learning more about playing in a group. As in modern church environments, the idea of “catching the spirit” was also popularized in less performative forms of negro spirituals.

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