White Spirituals VS Negro Spirituals

Many people have not heard of white spirituals and even questioned their existence. However, white spirituals are real. White spirituals are actually very similar to Negro spirituals because they have the same basis, derivative, and purpose.

What is a White Spiritual?

A white spiritual is southern folk music sang by White Americans dating as far back to the mid 17th century. White spirituals include revival, camp-meeting songs, and other hymns. “Where congregations could not read, a leader intoned (lined out) the psalm text, one line at a time, alternating with the congregation’s singing of each just-given line to a familiar melody.” 

Singers participate in a Sacred Harp performance in a north Alabama courthouse around 1940. 


It was introduced after the Second Great Awakening where religion was having a revival. The way people worshiped changed, including the music.


The name white spirituals comes from southern white people singing folk songs together for religious reasoning.

White Spiritual #1- Tribulations by Estil. C. Ball

What is a Negro Spiritual?

Negro spirituals are religious songs sang by Black Christians of the South. The music was reflective of the forced servitude brought onto black people. Negro spirituals expressed sorrow and mournfulness. 


The 17th century. Negro spirituals developed during slavery. 


The name “negro” a title given to Black people in America. Spirituals come from a subcategory of folk songs. Negro spirituals are folk songs that slaves began singing on the plantation. The culture of it and tradition has been passed down from generation to generation and is instilled into African- American gospel songs today. 

Negro Spiritual #1- Sweet Chariot

White Spiritual:

White spirituals are sung slowly. It is composed with passing notes and turns. The singers sing with the pitch they find most comfortable.Typically sung unharmonized and began with high male voices then the women and basses join in an octave above or below .


White camp meeting

Negro Spiritual:

Negro spirituals include syncopation and counter-rhythms like hand clapping. Negro spirituals use striking timbre. These songs often include shouting and yelling. Lastly, there is a use of raspy and shrill falsetto tones. 


Black camp meeting


  • Both are Folk Songs.
  • Commonly sang at camp meetings.
  • Both derived in religion (Christianity). 
  • Meant to bring unity and getting through a hard time through Christ.

Both Negro spirituals and white spirituals are folk songs that express some type of sadness. They both have a purpose of expression, making one feel better, and unity by calling on Christ through their music. 



African American Spirituals. (n.d.). Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197495/


Barber, C. D. (1979, December). A Study of White Spiritual Music and Twelve Related Concepts. RACE: Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange. https://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=6345&context=utk_gradthes


Davidson, D., & John Hopkins University. (1943). The White Spirituals and Their Historian. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27537458


Encyclopaedia Britannica. (n.d.). Spiritual. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/art/spiritual

Schipper, I. (2019, 10 30). White Spirituals: AN expression of culture or attempt at oppression. American Music. 



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