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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 ?
Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle and Moses Hogan (who died last year), have been successful in performing repertoires of spirituals. Even on the Internet, Web sites devoted to spirituals are thriving.
"Spirituals are hitting something really important as fire world gets more complicated, especially for black folks" says Arthur C.
Teachers and students seeking to expand their knowledge of music by women composers of African descent will find From Spirituals to Symphonies invaluable.
(2) Thus, throughout the novels that make up the Bloodworth Trilogy--There Is A Tree More Ancient Than Eden, The Bloodworth Orphans, and Two Wings to Veil My Face--Forrest uses the gospel impulse (3) and its magical use of reinvention as an art form to address the theme that permeates his novels: the transformation of the self as an act essential to survival during spiritual agony.
At base, gospel music shares many of the traditions found in the spiritual, such as syncopated hand clapping, call-and-response patterns, and the use of scripture for lyrics.
Harry Belafonte and his colleagues have assembled here a rich sampling of the songs of a people who almost single-handedly invented American popular and folk music, and brought out of the trunks of our deeply troubled and sinful history the spirituals, hollers, battle hymns, and work songs of men and women who would not be silenced by slavery, imprisonment, or discrimination, but would instead forge a joyful sound to the God who is the light along the long road to freedom.
"The United Church of Christ hymnals have always had a 'black' section that contained spirituals and other songs," says Dr.
A recent and felicitous study in this realm is Katherine Clay Bassard's Spiritual Interrogations.
In describing spirituals as "chronicles, homilies, affirmations, mantras, and jubilations" (xviii), Peters does not discuss the possible temporal meanings of some of the texts.
The structural form and performance style associated with folk spirituals are derived from West African musical practices.
Although some scholars, musicians, and critics argue that the blues, spirituals, gospel, and jazz comprise the true or authentic African American art music, because these forms and genres constitute the African-centered music of the African American masses, others argue that music in the European aristocratic tradition is somehow more artful than jazz or blues, or gospel.
"Membership in Spiritual Seeker Book Swap is completely free; just sign up and start swapping," says Sarah Pollak, the multimedia designer whose thirst for spiritual knowledge led her to start the site.