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a religious folk songfolk song,
music of anonymous composition, transmitted orally. The theory that folk songs were originally group compositions has been modified in recent studies. These assume that the germ of a folk melody is produced by an individual and altered in transmission into a
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 of American origin, particularly associated with African-American Protestants of the southern United States. The African-American spiritual, characterized by syncopation, polyrhythmic structure, and the pentatonic scale of five whole tones, is, above all, a deeply emotional song. The words are most often related to biblical passages, but the predominant effect is of patient, profound melancholy. The spiritual is directly related to the sorrow songs that were the source material of the blues (see jazzjazz,
the most significant form of musical expression of African-American culture and arguably the most outstanding contribution the United States has made to the art of music. Origins of Jazz

Jazz developed in the latter part of the 19th cent.
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), and a number of more joyous spirituals influenced the content of gospel songs (see gospel musicgospel music,
American religious musical form that owes much of its origin to the Christian conversion of West Africans enslaved in the American South. Gospel music partly evolved from the songs slaves sang on plantations, notably work songs, and from the Protestant hymns they
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Beginning in the late 19th cent., when a celebrated chorus from Fisk Univ. traveled throughout the United States and abroad, wide attention was given to the spirituals of American blacks. This body of song was long thought to be the only original folk music of the United States, and research into its origin centered mainly on the nature and extent of its African ancestry. Because slaves were brought to the United States from many parts of Africa, no single African musical source is clear. Elements that African music and American black spirituals have in common include syncopation, polyrhythmic structure, the pentatonic scale, and a responsive rendition of text. Audience participation increased the improvisatory nature of the spirituals, with the result that tens and even hundreds of versions of a single text idea exist.

Early in the 20th cent., Cecil SharpSharp, Cecil James,
1859–1924, English musician, best known for his researches in English folk music. In 1911 he founded the English Folk Dance Society. In the United States he collected (1914–18) folk songs in the Appalachian Mts.
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 explored the extent of American folk-song literature, much of which he demonstrated to be of British ancestry. After that discovery, G. P. Jackson traced the considerable influence of revivalist and evangelist songs from the early 19th-century camp meetings of the Southern white population. Jackson claimed, using hundreds of comparative examples, that many black spirituals were adapted from or inspired by these white spirituals. African musical traditions were apparently amalgamated with the religious songs of the white South, which had many sources, to produce a form of folk music that was distinctly black in character.


Collections and arrangements of spirituals have been made by R. Johnson and J. W. Johnson, R. N. Dett, G. L. White, J. A. Lomax and A. Lomax, R. Hayes, and others. See also G. P. Jackson, White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands (1933) and Spiritual Folk-Songs of Early America (1937); G. P. Jackson, White and Negro Spirituals (1943); L. Jones, Blues People (1963); J. Cone, The Spirituals and the Blues (1980).



a spiritual song of the American Negro; the most important genre of Negro musical folklore.

Spirituals arose in the southern states of the USA during the period of slavery, and they drew from African and Anglo-Celtic artistic traditions. For the most part, spirituals are associated with biblical images; however, biblical themes are expressed in the vernacular and combined with the narration of daily life. The melodies are distinguished by originality of harmony (pentatonic and six-tone harmony and alternations between major and minor thirds) and rhythm (syncopation). Spirituals convey the moods of tragic loneliness and spiritual suffering and are characterized by their profundity, sincerity, and poetic quality. Initially, they were performed a cappella by a choir as a collective improvisation, in which the melody was varied with each performance. In the last third of the 19th century, reworkings of spirituals appeared for solo singing with instrumental accompaniment (banjo or piano).



1. of, relating to, or characteristic of sacred things, the Church, religion, etc.
2. standing in a relationship based on communication between the souls or minds of the persons involved
4. the sphere of religious, spiritual, or ecclesiastical matters, or such matters in themselves
5. the. the realm of spirits
References in periodicals archive ?
Unlike the Negro spiritual, enormous lacunae exist in primary documentation of the early history of folk blues.
As the Negro spiritual "I Shall Not Be Moved" reflects a tree planted by the water, the quilt shall not be moved as a tradition of defiance and dialectical response to social and political circumstances.
And as principal editor of The Negro Caravan, Brown wrote with unusual sensitivity and insight about the Negro spiritual based on the Dives-Lazarus story, "I Got a Home in That Rock.
II:The Negro Spirituals Dialogue has been submitted for consideration in this year's 58th Grammy Awards.
While Antonin Dvorak was a Czech composer, he spent three years living and composing in America and was influenced by Negro spirituals and native American music to produce what was his last symphony, the New World.
Spirit You All opens with the song "Everytime," from the senior McFerrin's 1959 album Deep River and Other Classic Negro Spirituals.
Both allegedly borrow from American Indian rhythms and Negro spirituals, but most commentators now argue that it was Dvorak's move to Spillville, Iowa, that put him back in touch with Eastern European compatriots and its was their folk traditions that he explored, not American ones, in these two efforts.
As well as being a great singer who made Negro spirituals beloved by audiences frequently hostile to members of his race, Robeson was a powerful actor, whose performances as Othello and The Emperor Jones were among the most stirring of his time.
In the studio, students tackled a range of works by black choreographers--or inspired by African American themes--from Helen Tamiris' Negro Spirituals (1928-42) to Donald McKayle's 1951 Games.
As a musician, Joseph plays "slave songs" and "Negro spirituals" on his saxophone and piano; he travels to Jamaica, Cuba, Brazil several times, "trying to find links between the Negro spirituals and Latin and island music" (73).
Robeson was the first major concert star to popularise the performance of Negro spirituals, and was also the first black actor of the 20th century to portray Othello on Broadway.
I would like to share with readers the experience of a very special person: Marian Anderson, the great singer of classical music and Negro spirituals about whom Arturo Toscanini said that a great voice like hers comes once in a century.