Edited by Azizi Powell
This post provides excepts from six online articles about the differences between Spirituals and Black (African American) Gospel music.
The Addendum to this post includes my editorial comments summarizing the differences between Spirituals and Black Gospel music. The Addendum also showcases videos of two contemporary Gospel songs that contain elements of Spirituals.
The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, and religious, and aesthetic purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the vocalists and choirs that are featured in the Addendum to this post.
ARTICLE EXCERPTS ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SPIRITUALS AND BLACK GOSPEL SONGS
These article excerpts are given "as is" (without citations) and are numbered in this post for referencing purposes only. I added brief editorial comments after two of these articles.
"Spirituals (or Negro spirituals) are generally Christian songs that were created by African slaves in the United States. Spirituals were originally an oral tradition that imparted Christian values while also describing the hardships of slavery. Although spirituals were originally unaccompanied monophonic (unison) songs, they are best known today in harmonized choral arrangements. This historic group of uniquely American songs is now recognized as a distinct genre of music.
Stylistic origins: Work song; Christian hymns
Cultural origins: Enslaved Africans in the U.S.
Typical instruments: Vocal
Derivative forms: Blues; gospel music
The term spiritual is derived from spiritual song, and derives from the King James Bible's translation of Ephesians 5:19 says: "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." Slave Songs of the United States, the first major collection of Negro spirituals, was published in 1867....
From 1800 to 1825 slaves were exposed to the religious music of camp meetings on the ever-expanding frontier. Spirituals were based on Christian psalms and hymns and merged with African music styles and secular American music forms. Spirituals were not simply different versions of hymns or Bible stories, but rather a creative altering of the material; new melodies and music, refashioned text, and stylistic differences helped to set apart the music as distinctly African-American.
The lyrics of Christian spirituals reference symbolic aspects of Biblical images such as Moses and Israel's Exodus from Egypt in songs such as "Michael Row the Boat Ashore". There is also a duality in the lyrics of spirituals. They communicated many Christian ideals while also communicating the hardship that was a result of being an African-American slave. The spiritual was often directly tied to the composer's life. It was a way of sharing religious, emotional, and physical experience through song.
The river Jordan in traditional African American religious song became a symbolic borderland not only between this world and the next. It could also symbolize travel to the north and freedom or could signify a proverbial border from the status of slavery to living free....
The African American spiritual (also called the Negro Spiritual) constitutes one of the largest and most significant forms of American folksong." Spirituals were sung as lullabies and play songs. Some spirituals were adapted as work songs. Antonin Dvorak chose spiritual music to represent America in his Symphony From the New World."...
This article (retrieved on August 16, 2016) indicates that "Spirituals were originally unaccompanied monophonic (unison) songs".
-end of quote-
Besides the fact that it's impossible to know what the Spirituals "originally" were like, that "unison singing" description is inaccurate as most early Spirituals (i.e. Spirituals that were collected early on (in the late 19th century), have a call and response pattern.
This article also contained the following sentences that I didn't quote but which are found at the end of the fourth paragraph given in this excerpt (i.e. the paragraph beginning with "From 1800 to 1825"..)
"However, spirituals were not composed at first by the blacks. Because of the spontaneity of the music, whites could never accurately note take what was occurring."
-end of quote-
Besides for the (hopefully glaring) point that the phrase "the blacks" is politically (socially) incorrect and offensive, this article's writers should have clarified what they meant by that sentence. I think that the second sentence was trying to convey that Spirituals included coded language. My position is that some, but not all Spirituals contained coded language. Also, every time a Spiritual like "Wade In The Water" and "Steal Away" were sung, it didn't mean that some enslaved person was getting ready to flee slavery.
Here's another statement from that same article:
"Spirituals remain a mainstay particularly in small black churches, often Baptist or Pentecostal, in the deep South.- citation: Banks, Adelle M., "Arthur Jones shares spirituals with kids to teach history and heritage", Religious News Service, August 6, 2005.
-end of quote-
I don't know if Spirituals were still a mainstay in "small black churches, often Baptist or Pentecostal, in the deep South" in 2005. And I don't know if Spirituals are still sung in those churches in 2016. Judging from my experiences (in the North) and judging from YouTube viewer comment threads that I have read about African American religious music, it appears that Spirituals are seldom sung in Black churches in the South or anywhere else in the United States.
"The term [Spiritual] has mostly been used to indicate a religious Negro folk-song, originating firstly in the South of the United states during the slavery period. Although born in slavery its traditions have been continued and the Spiritual as a musical genre continues to this day.
According to noted Negro musician Dr. Melville Charlton, organist of the Union Theological Seminary at New York for 18 years, "a Spiritual is in a specific sense as an American Negro religious folk-song." He would also include any Negro religious song, not composed, in this category. J. Rosamond Johnson, who has studied, sung and composed the music of his race very extensively, defines a Spiritual as "an American Negro folk-song, who's rhythm derived from the African tom-tom beat, with the substance of its text based on prayer and religious fervour; set to the characteristic musical cadence of Negro melody." His brother, James Weldon Johnson, who wrote a very understanding and instructive preface to Mr. Johnson's collection of Spirituals, puts it in slightly different words when he writes, "They are religious folk-songs origi- nated by the Negro in the South and used strictly for purposes of religious worship." Harry T. Burleigh, who is equally well known as a composer and as soloist of St. George's Church, New York, defines a Spiritual as follows:
"The plantation songs known as Spirituals are the spontaneous outpourings of intense religious fervour and have their origin chiefly in camp-meetings, revivals, and other religious exercises. They were never composed but sprang into life ready made from the heat of religious fervour, during some protracted meeting in camp or church, as the simple, ecstatic utterance of wholly untutored minds, and are practically the only music of America which meets the scientific definition of folk-song." Mr. Burleigh then goes on to state that deep spirituality and rhythm are essential components and makes the rather impressive statement that the voice is not so important as the spirit.
It would appear from these various definitions that there are several fundamental properties of the Spiritual, namely: origin among Southern Negro folk, that it shall have grown up uncomposed, its subject matter religion, and possessed of much fervour; a characteristic melody; its rhythm based on the native African tom-tom beat and finally, that it should be the spontaneous outpouring of the spirit. They are suited to communal singing, often use a call-and-response structure, with between the leader and the group."
A spiritual is a type of religious folksong that is most closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American South... The African American spiritual (also called the Negro Spiritual) constitutes one of the largest and most significant forms of American folksong.
Famous spirituals include "Swing low, sweet chariot," composed by a Wallis Willis, and "Deep down in my heart." The term "spiritual" is derived from the King James Bible translation of Ephesians 5:19: "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." The form has its roots in the informal gatherings of African slaves in "praise houses" and outdoor meetings called "brush arbor meetings," "bush meetings," or "camp meetings" in the eighteenth century [sic]*. At the meetings, participants would sing, chant, dance and sometimes enter ecstatic trances. Spirituals also stem from the "ring shout," a shuffling circular dance to chanting and handclapping that was common among early plantation slaves....
Spirituals are typically sung in a call and response form, with a leader improvising a line of text and a chorus of singers providing a solid refrain in unison. The vocal style abounded in freeform slides, turns and rhythms that were challenging for early publishers of spirituals to document accurately. Many spirituals, known as "sorrow songs," are intense, slow and melancholic. Songs like "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child," and "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen," describe the slaves' struggles and identification the suffering of Jesus Christ. Other spirituals are more joyful. Known as "jubilees," or "camp meeting songs," they are fast, rhythmic and often syncopated. Examples include "Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham" and "Fare Ye Well,"
Spirituals are also sometimes regarded as codified protest songs, with songs such as "Steal away to Jesus," composed by Wallis Willis, being seen by some commentators as incitements to escape slavery. Because the Underground Railroad of the mid- nineteenth century used terminology from railroads as a secret language for assisting slaves to freedom, it is often speculated that songs like "I got my ticket" may have been a code for escape. Hard evidence is difficult to come by because assisting slaves to freedom was illegal. A spiritual that was certainly used as a code for escape to freedom was "Go down, Moses," used by Harriet Tubman to identify herself to slaves who might want to flee north. [note 1]...
Notice that while almost all Spirituals have no known composer, the Spiritual "Swing Low Sweet chariot" and at least three other known Spirituals are attributed to a Black Indian enslaved man Wallis Willis. Click https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_Willis for information on Wallace (Wallis) Willis.
This author of this article wrote "eighteenth century" several times when he or she meant "nineteenth century".
From http://www.spiritualsproject.org/sweetchariot/History/ What is the Difference Between the Spirituals and Gospel Music?
"Many people ask what the difference is between the spirituals and Black gospel music. Simply put, the spirituals are the Southern sacred "folk" songs created and first sung by African Americans during slavery. Their original composers are unknown, and they have assumed a position of collective ownership by the whole community. They lend themselves easily to communal singing. Many are in a call-and-response structure, with back-and-forth exchanges between the leader and the group. A formal concert tradition has evolved from the original spirituals, with solo and choral arrangements based on original slave melodies, employed for performance by amateur and professional artists. Black gospel music originated in the churches of the urban North in the 1920's, and has been the predominant music of the twentieth century Black Church. Each gospel song has an identifiable composer. Gospel fuses musical elements of both the spirituals and the blues, and incorporates extensive musical improvisation, with piano, guitar or other instrumental accompaniment. While the gospel tradition descended directly from the spirituals and the blues, the spirituals have also continued to exist as a parallel cultural force."
From http://www.artofthenegrospiritual.com/research/GospelTruthNegroSpiritual.pdf The Gospel Truth About The Negro Spiritual: A Lecture-Recital presented by Ranye Jones, November 13, 2013 [total 14 pages]
..."The Gospel music of the African American had its beginnings in the years following the Civil War. Many newly freed slaves began seeking a new life away from the rural setting of the Southern plantations. They sought better opportunities for education and employment to the north and the west.
From a religious standpoint, the freedmen took two very distinct paths. Some formed churches affiliated with established white denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian etc.) and worshiped using formal, structured liturgies modeled after their white counterparts. They rejected the Negro Spiritual in its original form because the folksongs not only reminded them of their former conditions, but those songs did not fit their newly formed aesthetics. They chose to sing hymns by Dr. Isaac Watt, John Wesley, and Richard Allen, though those congregations sang those songs with a favor that hinted of their African roots.
Predominately in the South, the second path led poorer, less well educated African Americans to form their own Pentecostal or holiness churches. From around 1870 until the turn of the 20th century, hymns began to appear that combined the syncopation, call-and-response, and improvisation of African American music with
the formal structure of the white hymn. These "gospel hymns" addressed the desires of African Americans who wanted songs that more profoundly expressed their belief in the "Good News" found in the four Gospels of the New Testament. Best known of the composers of gospel hymns was Charles A. Tindley, a Methodist minister who wrote such hymns as "I'll Overcome Someday", "We'll Understand It All By And By" and "Here I Am, Send Me".
Unlike the creators of the spirituals, Tindley and his contemporaries copyrighted and published their music in collections such as Gospel Pearls and New Songs Of Paradise. They also promoted their works at concerts and events such as the National Baptist Convention. Although some music was performed a cappella,
some churches allowed, for the first time, the use of instruments such as the piano, drum, and tambourine. Gospel performing forces during this period consisted either of male quartets or female gospel choirs.
In the early decades of the 20th century, southern African Americans were in the midst of a massive migration north, and they carried their music with them. Chicago became the center of gospel music in the 1920s and 1930s with the arrival of Thomas A. Dorsey, called the "Father Of Gospel Music". Dorsey, who developed a very successful career writing and performing with blues diva Ma Rainey, introduced Blues elements into the sacred music that he wrote. He went virtually from church door to church door, gradually convincing ministers that this "devil's music" was suitable for their services. With the help of vocal soloists such as Sallie Martin, Mahalia Jackson, and Roberta Martin, he made recordings of his songs, eventually generating an international audience for his music. Dorsey composed over 400 songs in his career, including his most famous song "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"...
[Note: This article refers to "Gospel music" in general and not just "Black" Gospel.]
..."The first published use of the term ″Gospel Song" probably appeared in 1874 when Philip Bliss released a songbook entitled Gospel Songs. A Choice Collection of Hymns and Tunes. It was used to describe a new style of church music, songs that were easy to grasp and more easily singable than the traditional church hymns, which came out of the mass revival movement starting with Dwight L. Moody, whose musician was Ira D. Sankey, as well as the Holiness-Pentecostal movement. Prior to the meeting of Moody and Sankey in 1870, there was an American rural/frontier history of revival and camp meeting songs, but the gospel hymn was of a different character, and it served the needs of mass revivals in the great cities.
The revival movement employed popular singers and song leaders, the most famous of them being Ira D. Sankey. The original gospel songs were written and composed by authors such as George F. Root, Philip Bliss, Charles H. Gabriel, William Howard Doane, and Fanny Crosby. As an extension to his initial publication Gospel Songs, Philip Bliss, in collaboration with Ira D. Sankey issued no’s. 1 to 6 of Gospel Hymns in 1875. Sankey and Bliss’s collection can be found in many libraries today.
The popularity of revival singers and the openness of rural churches to this type of music (in spite of its initial use in city revivals) led to the late 19th and early 20th century establishment of gospel music publishing houses such as those of Homer Rodeheaver, E. O. Excell, Charlie Tillman, and Charles Tindley. These publishers were in the market for large quantities of new music, providing an outlet for the creative work of many songwriters and composers.
The holiness-Pentecostal movement, or sanctified movement, appealed to people who were not attuned to the Europeanized version of black church music. Holiness worship has used any type of instrumentation that congregation members might bring in, from tambourines to electric guitars. Pentecostal churches readily adopted and contributed to the gospel music publications of the early 20th century. Late 20th-century musicians such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mahalia Jackson, Andrae Crouch, and the Blackwood Brothers either were raised in a Pentecostal environment, or have acknowledged the influence of that tradition.
The advent of radio in the 1920s greatly increased the audience for gospel music, and James D. Vaughan used radio as an integral part of his business model, which also included traveling quartets to publicize the gospel music books he published several times a year. Virgil O. Stamps and Jesse R. Baxter studied Vaughan's business model and by the late 1920s were running heavy competition for Vaughan. The 1920s also saw the marketing of gospel records by groups such as the Carter Family...
In African-American music, gospel quartets developed an a cappella style following the earlier success of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The 1930s saw the Fairfield Four, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, The Soul Stirrers, the Swan Silvertones, the Charioteers, and the Golden Gate Quartet. Racism divided the nation, and this division did not skip the church. If during slavery blacks were treated as inferior inside the white churches, after emancipation they formed their own separate churches. The gospel groups which were very popular within the black community, were virtually unknown to the white community, though some in the white community began to follow them. In addition to these high-profile quartets, there were many black gospel musicians performing in the 1920s and 30s, usually playing the guitar and singing in the streets of Southern cities. Famous among them were Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Joe Taggart and others.
In the 1930s, in Chicago, Thomas A. Dorsey (best known as author of the song "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"), who had spent the 1920s writing and performing secular blues music under the name "Georgia Tom", turned to gospel music, establishing a publishing house..... It has been said that 1930 was the year when modern gospel music began, because the National Baptist Convention first publicly endorsed the music at its 1930 meeting....
Following the Second World War, gospel music moved into major auditoriums, and gospel music concerts became quite elaborate. In 1950, black gospel was featured at Carnegie Hall when Joe Bostic produced the Negro Gospel and Religious Music Festival. He repeated it the next year with an expanded list of performing artists, and in 1959 moved to Madison Square Garden. Today, black gospel and white gospel are distinct genres, with distinct audiences. In white gospel, there is a large Gospel Music Association and a Gospel Music Hall of Fame, which includes a few black artists, such as Mahalia Jackson, but which ignores most black artists. In the black community, James Cleveland established the Gospel Music Workshop of America in 1969."...
ADDENDUM: EDITOR'S COMMENTS
It seems to me that these articles generally agree that
1.Spirituals were composed and sung by Black people (now commonly referred to as African Americans) prior to the end of United States slavery (prior to 1865).
2. Spirituals usually have no known composers, while Black Gospel songs almost always have an identifier composer or composers.
3. Spirituals often have a call and response pattern.
[Added August 18, 2016]
Sometimes the call and response pattern means that the lead sings one (sometimes more often changing) line, followed by the group singing another (often more fixed) word, phrase, or line.
Sometimes the call and response pattern is the lead singing a line and the group then singing the same line.
Some Black Gospel songs have either of these patterns or the choir sings in unison the lines that used to be divided between the lead and the rest of the group.
4. Early (pre-choral arrangements of) Spirituals were improvisational, having no set lyrics and no set verse orders. Pre-choral arrangements of Spirituals were also open ended (i.e. One Spiritual could be sung as long as the singers wanted to sing that song.)
While Black Gospel songs often have improvisational riffs and other improvisational features such as beginning interjections such as "Well", and "I said", Black Gospel songs have relatively set lyrics, relatively set verse orders, and aren't as open ended as Spirituals.
Furthermore, based on the date definitions for Spirituals, no religious composition that was composed after 1865 or at least after the end of the 19th century, can qualify as a Spiritual.
ADDENDUM #2: TWO VIDEOS OF CONTEMPORARY GOSPELS THAT CONTAIN ELEMENTS OF SPIRITUALS
There are some contemporary Gospel songs that "sound like" Spirituals, mostly based on their call and respond patterns and/or a "zipper" form that is also sometimes found in Spirituals and other songs. By "zipper" form I mean when a noun or a verb in one verse of the song is replaced by another noun or verb in other verses of that song. For example: one verse: "I got a robe up in ah that kingdom." Next verse: I got a crown...". Next verse: "I got shoes"... . Or in another song "I want to sing like David sang." followed by "I want to pray like"..."; followed by "I want to shout like...".
However, besides being written in the 20th or 21st century, those contemporary compositions have a known composer, and also have a set verse structure, and aren't open ended.
Here are two songs that I think include elements of Spirituals:
Example #1: When the Spirit of the Lord by Fred Hammond with lyrics
PastorAbbie, Uploaded on Sep 7, 2010
I will dance like David danced
Example #2: Byron Cage - The presence of the Lord is Here
denise896, Uploaded on Oct 17, 2010
Praise and Worship Video with lyrics
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