Negro Spirituals Trials and Tribulations Through Song

by Alyssia Horsley and Khanijha Lee

Origins of Negro Spirituals

The first collection of Negro spirituals was published in 1867, but the origin of negro spirituals began with enslavement and the Atlantic Slave Trade. During field work many people would come together as a collective and pass the day by joining together through song. The songs they would sings would be about the trails and tribulations they were experiencing.“People used the term without the descriptor, ” African American”. The term “spirituals” is a 19th century word. The word refers to for song with religious texts created by African slaves in America.

Popular Songs

Genres of Negro Spirituals

Work Songs- A piece of music closely connected to a form of work. The historical context behind work songs is very rich. Many work songs were sung with hidden messages that consisted of escape times, and dates that helped enslaved individuals get their freedom. One popular work song is ” Wade in the Water” which is a song that was sued for escaping purposes during slavery. 

Jubilees- the most popular Jubliee singers are the Fisk Jubilees singer. This a quartet sound. They blended commercial and instrumental dumping and sounds to create unique and popular music. Jubliee’s were very popular in churches and black universities. In the beginning the musical techniques mirrored western style music techniques. However the more popular the music got the more jazz, blues and other modern musical influences.

Ring shout- Transcends religious rituals in which worshipers move in a circle while shuffling and stomping their feet and clapping their hands. Ring Shout originated with the Atlantic slave trade and is slightly different according to which part of the African diaspora that is being observed. Through the forced practice of religion many songs centered around biblical stories that were passed down from generation to generation. Since Ring Shout songs were very common and well remembered these songs could be heard at burials, celebrations and church gatherings. 

Sorrow Songs – Expressed the suffering and unjust treatment of enslaved African Americans during the period of slavery in the U.S. They are often composed of stories of struggles African Americans have endured since the Atlantic Slave Trade. Through these songs struggles and pain that was going on in the community was not hidden. People were allowed to let their emotions be heard. 

How negro spirituals affect us today

Negro Spirituals are still sung and performed all over the African diaspora today. Depending on where you go you see variations of stories, struggles and testimonies all performed through song. As modern music techniques progress we have started to see an incorporation of jazz, blues and R&B. Although all the different types of  Negro Spirituals variations  originated and became popular during slavery. The stories and struggles that they sung about still hold some truth to what the average Black person is experiencing now. The songs where passes down from our ancestors and when we come together we feel the joy, pain , and happiness they felt at the time. During slavery it was nearly impossible to write or publish a particular song. Due to the circumstance many enslaved individuals were in. Since many people couldn’t read or write the negro spirtuals were there testimonies that could reach the masses.