The History of Negro Spirituals
Negro Spirituals are religious folk songs that were created by Africans who were captured and brought to the United States as slaves. They became more popular in the last few decades of the eighteenth century leading up to the abolishment of slavery. Negro Spirituals constitute one of the largest and most significant forms of American folk songs today.
The slaveholders did not allow the slaves to dance, or play drums which was normal for them in Africa. Therefore, they had to have secret meetings, called camp meetings or bush meetings. These meetings were an outlet for the slaves to share their joys, pains and hopes. In these meetings the slaves gathered and listened to itinerant preachers and sang spirituals for hours.
Some negro spirituals that you may be familiar with are:
- Wade in The Water
- God’s Got a Crown
- Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child
- Down by the Riverside
- Children Go Where I Send Thee
Negro Spirituals have been a staple in the HBCU Choral Community. Many HBCU Choirs pay homage to our ancestors by singing Negro Spirituals. A choir I would like to highlight today is one that is near and dear to my heart, The Spelman College Glee Club.
The Spelman College Glee Club
The Spelman College Glee Club was founded in 1924. The Glee Club has a wide repertoire which includes music from world cultures, commissioned works and of course Negro spirituals. The Spelman College Glee Club has always supported music by African American composers, particularly those with focus on harmonies that complement women’s voices.
The current Director of the Spelman College Glee Club is Dr. Kevin Johnson. Past directors include Hilda Brendenburg, Marrion Guthrie, Stella J. Haugan, Kemper Harreld, Willis Laurence James, Dr. Roland Allison, Aldrich Adkins, Ruth B. Stokes and Dr. Norma Rabon. Over the years, the Glee Club has grown to a membership of 80 students.
One of the Glee Club’s most famous Negro spirituals is Wade in the Water. The lyrics to “Wade in the Water” were first co-published in 1901 in New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers by Frederick J. Work and his brother, John Wesley Work Jr. The video below shows the Glee Club singing Wade in the Water at Classical MPR in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Another Negro Spiritual that the Glee Club has performed is Children Go Where I Send Thee. This spiritual was performed at the 93rd Annual Spelman-Morehouse Christmas Carol Concert.
The song was also performed again with the Morehouse College Glee Club at the 95th Annual Spelman-Morehouse Christmas Carol Concert.
The Spelman College Glee Club continues to amaze and inspire and I am proud to be apart of such an amazing legacy.