Category: Spirituals

  • Gullah/Geechee Resources

    The coast of South Carolina was the port of entry for more than two-thirds of the Africans brought to America as slaves. The wealth of the state, and of its capitol city, Charleston, was built on slavery. Charleston was known as the “Cradle of the Confederacy,” and the first shots in the Civil War were […]

  • The Happy Heaven of Harlem

    Many artists moved to Harlem, where they were free to cultivate the inner life. Langston Hughes, the most famous poet of the Harlem Renaissance, reading his poem “I, Too”: The Harlem Renaissance was the artistic flowering of the Great Migration. As Duke Ellington wrote in “Drop Me Off in Harlem”: I don’t want your Dixie,You […]

  • The DNA of American Classical Music

    While driving to Target to buy a new vacuum on Black Friday (oh, the glamorous life of an adjunct!), I turned on the radio to the classical station, which was in the middle of this piece, in a new arrangement for piano quintet (piano, two violins, viola, and cello). At first I thought it was […]

  • The DNA of American Folk Music

    Engraving of Pocahontas (1595-1617). In 2018, in response to pushback against her longtime claims of Native American ancestry (including from President Trump, who refers to her mockingly as “Pocahontas”), Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren had her DNA tested, and made the results public. The test indicated that Warren had a Native American ancestor […]

  • Funk and Futurism

    Earth, Wind and Fire as part of the cycle of creation. What is Afrofuturism? Briefly, the term denotes an African American ideological current associated with aesthetic references to outer space, non-Western cosmologies, religious and historical revisionism, and a stringent critique of the socio-economic plights of African Americans (and diasporic and continental Africans more broadly). Earth, […]

  • Authenticity (part IV: Black Metal)

    Read “The Unexpected Rise of Zeal and Ardor’s Spiritual Black Metal Blues.” and listen to the embedded audio. Listen to the song “Row, Row,” from his album Devil is Fine: Listen to Furry Lewis’s “Furry’s Blues”: The lyrics: I believe I’ll buy me a graveyard of my own Believe I’ll buy me a graveyard of my […]

  • Why, and What, Did the Slaves Sing?

    Content warning: racist, disturbing language and imagery. The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthly allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and […]

  • The Sorrow Songs

    W.E.B. Du Bois published The Souls of Black Folk in 1903. It remains a classic in the fields of both sociology and African-American literature. Du Bois believed that there were ten “master songs” that defined the African diaspora in America, and, in a kind of meta-narrative, he prefaced each chapter of the book with a quotation […]

  • Call and Response

    Call-and-response form is a structure imported to the Americas by enslaved African people in the seventeenth century. A brief history: A prison work song: (“Hammer, Ring,” Jesse Bradley and group, State Penitentiary, Huntsville, Texas, 1930s) A spiritual: “Talking ‘Bout a Good Time” (Moving Star Hall Singers, 1967) A sharecroppers’ work song: (“Arwhoolie,” Thomas J. Marshall, […]

  • Spirituals, Black English, and the Sonic Color Line

    Map of American English dialects. On July 5, 2018,  The Nation, a left-leaning magazine of politics and culture founded in 1865, published a poem on its website called “How-To.” The poem, meant to be an ironic critique of the limits of white liberal compassion, uses what is called in the field of linguistics African-American Vernacular English […]