By: Autumn Johnson

What are Negro Spirituals?

Negro Spirituals are a genre of religious music created by African Americans during slavery. Many enslaved people practiced religion because it was one of the only freedoms they had. Unfortunately, they were not able to worship altogether in assembly without White supervision, so they did so in secret. Negro Spirituals were used as a form of unity amongst all of the enslaved African Americans. For example, a Ring Shout, is a folk spiritual where there is a leader followed by a chorus, also referred to as antiphonal singing. A chorus is a group of people singing, making a Ring Shout more powerful as African Americans didn’t have the liberties to assemble in groups. There is also a religious dance incorporated where everyone moves in a counterclockwise circle. This is another way of rebellion because they are showing their unity being in a circle, while still defying the laws that say they’re not even supposed to gather.

Today:

Negro Spirituals still have a big influence in our African American culture today. Many churches have books containing Negro Spirituals and also have their choirs sing Negro Spirituals as well, which is considered an arranged spiritual. Some other arranged spirituals are the Fisk Jubilee Singers and other HBCU choirs. Negro Spirituals are still used today as a way to help African Americans get through difficult situations. For example, many HBCU choirs have been incorporating Negro Spirituals since their start. HBCUs were created for Black people to be given an education when White people wouldn’t accept them in their institutions. In this case and in slavery, White people have tried to put Black people down, but the negro Spirituals brings them together to rise above all of the issues that were passed down to bear. Another example would be how during protests, we use a call and response method similarly to the leader-chorus antiphonal singing during a Ring Shout.

Negro Spirituals: The Slave Songbook

The Christian themed backbone of gospel music in the form of religious work songs with African rhythm and common chanting styles that initially served as a coping mechanism for slavery but has served for all forms of black plight in America.

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