Negro Spirituals

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Humans from the coast of West Africa arrived to the New World as slaves. Stripped of everything familiar, they brought with them their traditional ways of using music to record historic events, expressions, and to accompany rituals. While toiling in the tobacco fields of Virginia, slaves were not permitted to speak to each other. So, they resorted to their African tradition. They sang! Today, these lyrics have crossed barriers and are sung in many churches across America as spirituals. However, such songs as Wade in the Water, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and Follow the Drinking Gourd, were once used as an important tool of survival by the slaves of the antebellum era. The content of many Negro spirituals consisted of a religious theme. However, Negro spirituals were not intended to be religious. The primary purpose of Negro spirituals was to mislead an overseer or the plantation owner. Slaves were not allowed to have a political voice, but singing was permitted. Slaves were free to sing while working in the fields, or while performing various duties about the plantation. White Southerners viewed songs with biblical themes as non-threatening. A spiritual-singing slave was perceived as joyous and content. However, the seemingly joyous" music of the Negro slave was that of an unhappy people" (Dubois). Spirituals were used as a political tool for slaves to voice their contempt, or stand up to an irate master by mumbling his feelings through song. mislead an overseer or plantation owner. Messages were secretly concealed in every verse! Spirituals were not written, but transferred from slave to slave orally. In 1871, a group of students from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, formed a choir called the Jubilee Singers. Fisk was an University designed to educate former slaves. This choir of Freedmen performed concerts to raise money for their school. The Jubilee singers helped to preserve the songs of the American slaves. Slaves were not allowed the opportunity of literacy, so spirituals were not written. This resulted in many forgotten lyrics. escaping slaves during the antebellum era of the South. Call and Response is a style of singing that was utilized by slaves under the watchful eye of an overseer. The West African culture traditionally used this style of singing in public gatherings and religious rituals (Wikipedia).

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