Described as folksongs that are religious and sacred, Negro Spirituals are synopses of emotions and thinking of enslaved African-Americans and of Americans set to music. They developed in various conditions of slavery, some of which evoked in the souls of slaves longings such as, “Do Lord, Do Remember Me.” Some of the songs were probably generated in “invisible churches” hidden in the thick woods in which the Holy Spirit inspired the singing of “I Know It was the Blood.” Others, no doubt, were created in the middle of the hot fields
in which Ezekiel’s imagination put him on board of the chariot that went “a’rockin on down the road” because “ …He just wanted to wanted to lay down his heavy load.”
In the confines of slavery, some of the songs may have welled up in the minds of slaves because of deaths and burials, breading the angry feelings and thoughts, “You may bur-y me in the East, You may bur-y me in the West, But I’ll hear the trumpet sound In that morn-ing. In that morn-ing, my Lord.” “Oh Freedom” or “And before I’d be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave…” could have been stirred by being tired of seeing shovels of dirt tossed over body after body of loved ones lying at the bottom of graves.
Spirituals are thought of in various ways. In his book, Afro-American Folk-song: a Study in Racial and National Music (1913, page 30), Henry Edward Krehbiel quoted educator Booker T. Washington as saying, “The Negro folksong has for the race the same value that the folksong of any other people has for that people. It reminds the race of the ‘rock whence it was hewn,’ it fosters race pride.”
Introducing his book, Negro Spiritual and Folk Songs (1939), which includes arrangements of “Cert’ny Lord,” “Bye an’ Bye,” and of“Old Black Joe,” composer and arranger Frederic Hall explained, “The spirituals show the character of the people in whose hearts they were born, expressing patience, sincerity, the capability to love rather than to hate, and a firm belief in the God of all mankind.”
In Eileen Southern’s book, Readings in Black American Music (1983) choral conductor, composer, arranger Hall Johnson wrote that the spiritual is the only genuine home grown creative art-form to come out of the new world.
Making a similar observation in his book, Go Down, Moses; Celebrating the African-American Spiritual (1998, page 25) Richard Newman wrote, “One achievement of the spiritual was to offer the nation its first authentic African-American music and lyrics.”
Samuel Floyd described yet another way in which spirituals are viewed. In his book, The Power of Black Music (1995, page 40) Floyd said, “They are… chronicles of the black slave experience in American… for they record the transition of the slave from African to African-American, from slave to freeman, and the experiences that the African underwent in the transition….”
Clearly, Negro Spirituals are complex, being sources of race pride, of religious and entertainment songs, of insights into the character of African-American slaves, of the nation’s first creative, home grown genre of song, of “chronicles of the African-American slave experience in America,” and of avenues of emotional connections to enslaved African-Americans.
Each edition of The Negro Spiritual celebrates the values of Negro Spirituals. In part one, the current issue pays tribute to fame African-American lyric tenor, John Patton, a long time authority on and a professional performer of Negro Spirituals. Patton is honored because of his long history of dedication to preserving spirituals. Part two of the newsletter journal focuses on “The African-American Church - Negro Spiritual relationship,” featuring articles and short statements by ministers and
lay individuals addressing the increasing ‘dis-connect’ between the African-American church and the Spiritual Song.
The Negro Spirituals' Chariot
CDs New Releases
1.A Home in that Rock
2.Aide with Me
3. Out of the Shell
4.Ain’t Got Time to Die
5. Give Me Jesus
6. Future Release: Coming Home
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Inside this Issue
1. Johnny Patton Jr., A Famed Lyric Tenor Who Wasn't Raised To Be A Singer
2. Growing up with Negro Spirituals in a Church in Greenville, Texas
3. Has the Black Church Replaced Our Heritage for Contemporary Trends in Music?
4. Reflections on the Church and the Negro Spiritual Relationship
5. Houston, Tx Carrie Wilson and Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ Keep Spirituals Alive
6. The New England Spiritual Ensemble
7. Orlando's Edna Simpson Hargarett Lays Down the Baton at Jones High
7. A Treasure of Negro Spirituals on CD of William Dawson and the Tuskegee Institute Choir