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THE AFRICAN AMERICAN SPIRITUAL

A presentation of its origin, history, development and its use in worship.


THE SLAVE
THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE
THE SLAVE SONG: THE VERY BEGINNING

• The slaves sung in plantations music that was inspired


by their African Music.
• The music was characterized by “moans and groans”
and often mixed with humming and spontaneous
melodic variations.
• This gave the slave song it’s first name: ‘the moan’ or
the groan.
• This was perhaps away to express their deep and
intense emotions since there were restrictions on the
use of their native language and cultural practices.
THE “MOAN”
• Their owners considered their cultural ways idolatrous
and the slaves were converted into Christianity.

• These owners used it the bible to get allegiance and


loyalty from the slaves and justify their cruelty.
• The slaves used the little vocabulary they learnt to
translate Biblical information and facts from other
sources into song.

• Some Africans were allowed to hold their own prayer


meetings. Here, they’d sing, dance, chant and
sometimes enter into ecstatic trances.
• The word “spiritual” is used to describe these songs
that were composed spontaneously on the spot.

• The term “sperichil” first appeared in the book ‘slave


songs of the united states by Allen, Ware Garrison
1867.
• The meaning of these songs was often covert and it
was only the slaves that understood them.

• Even when ordinary words were used, they reflected


the relationship of the slave singer his/her God.
CODED LANGUAGE IN TEXT
• The slaves used the spirituals to also pass messages
of hope and escape.

• For instance:
 the word “home” referred to a place where
everyone was free and safe.
The song Swing low sweet chariot, and The Gospel
Train were used to directly refer to the “Underground
rail road” : An informal organization that helped free
slaves.

The lyrics of "The Gospel train" are "She is coming...


Get onboard... There's room for many more..." This is
a direct call to go way, by riding a "train" which stops at
"stations". They also refer to the ‘conductor’ of this
organization: Harriet Tubman
HARRIET TUBMAN
SPIRITUALS IN CHURCH
• Between 1865 and 1925, the spirituals became
increasingly used in church with an active participation
of the congregation (as it is usual in a Pentecostal)
church.

• They were frequently embellished and were also called


either “church songs”, or “jubilees” or “holy roller
songs”.
• Some hymns were also changed by the African
Americans and became “Dr. Watts”.

• Named after an English minister who published several


books including: “hymns and spiritual songs (1707)and
“The Psalm of David” (1717).

• Missionaries during this time reported on the ‘ecstatic


delight’ slaves took in singing the psalms and hymns of
Dr. Watts.
• Since the early 1800’s, African American ministers took
seriously the admonition of Dr. Isaac Watts:

“Ministers are to cultivate gifts of preaching and prayer


through study and diligence; they ought also to
cultivate their capacity of COMPOSING SPIRITUAL
SONGS and exercise it along with other parts of the
worship, preaching and prayer.
This was the birth of homiletic spirituals created by
preachers and taught to their congregation by them or
the deacons.
PERFORMANCE PRACTICE AND REPERTOIRE
• Enhanced by a group of Students from Fisk University
in Nashville Tennessee who toured the USA in the
1870s raising funds of the financially Strained students.
FISK UNIVERSITY STUDENTS
• Harry T. Burleigh, a student of Antonin Dvorak
published the song Deep River for voice and piano.

• This marked the beginning of spiritual songs


performance as art songs
HARRY T. BURLEIGH
Emergence of new spiritual genres i.e.. White
Spirituals .
MUSICAL CATEGORIES
• Call and Response e.g.: Swing Slow sweet chariot
• Fast and rhythmic e.g.: Joshua fought the battle of
Jericho.
• Slow and melodic: Deep River, Steal away
CHARACTERISTICS
• Simple melodies repeated through out the song.
• Passionate, Melancholic and soulful.
• Emotional and ludicative of not just the emotional strife
the endured but also their ability to remain hopeful.
• Use of Flattened notes in the melody and harmony i.e.
b3, b7, b6
• Syncopation
• Counter-rhythms marked by hand clapping
• Some of the song text have English that was custom
for the slaves, this due to the fact that the language
was learn’t. Example of such a song includes Kum –
bah – Yah which directly translates to Come by here.
THE END

Amazing Grace