(redirected from Negro spirituals)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal.


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
..... Click the link for more information.
 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.
..... Click the link for more information.
), 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
..... Click the link for more information.

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.
..... Click the link for more information.
 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 ?
Although authenticity of Negro spirituals as a genuine genre of slave music should seem self-evident (at least it was for numerous northern European-American missionaries and Union Army soldiers who first heard them in the South during the American Civil War), (5) lingering controversy over slave authorship of the spirituals has muddled slave song scholarship since the Fisk University Jubilee Singers first unveiled them to world audiences in the 1870s.
The exhaustive, well-researched book chronicles the origin of Negro spirituals from the slave trade during the 17th to 19th centuries, the biblical passages that slave owners used to justify slavery, the conversion of slaves to Christianity and their co-opting of Christianity to suit their spiritual needs.
Celestine Reid and the LoveTones, a group of singers from Newton, will present "The Hidden Meanings in Negro Spirituals from Slave Times" at 10:30 a.
In the preface to the Book of American Negro Spirituals, Johnson is very direct about the inability of musical notation to capture the "peculiarities" of African American performance: "I doubt that it is possible with our present system of notation to make a fixed transcription of these peculiarities that would be absolutely true; for in their very nature they are not susceptible to fixation" (30).
Boughton's programme with the ESO and the Saint Michael's Singers from Coventry Cathedral, is an appropriately reflective one, with Mozart's haunting Requiem and Ave Verum Corpus, Faure's Cantique de Jean Racine and the Five Negro Spirituals from Tippett's Child of our Time (7.
The remaining essays cover a breadth of African-American church music, from Negro spirituals to hymns to traditional and contemporary gospel from the perspective of a variety of African-American religious traditions, including Episcopal and Pentecostal.
the Russian dirges that had resonance in the Negro spirituals .
The disappointment would stem from the genre of the music which owed as much to rock, Motown and negro spirituals as R'nB.
Will's research found that Anderson sang 'My Country 'Tis of Thee' in the same drawn out phrasing King used in 1963, and she closed her 1939 performance with two Negro spirituals.
Paul Robeson Prom - July 21 Sir Willard White pays tribute to Paul Robeson with a selection of Negro spirituals, Russian songs and British folk songs.
But much as Lee blended hip-hop tunes with Negro spirituals and jazz melodies in creating the complex soundtracks that echoed the very diverse voices of his characters, his references to athletic gear and jargon are not simply received stylistic statements.
His programme will include Negro spirituals, Russian songs, British folk songs, classic early jazz songs and some Gershwin and Kern.