Spiritual (music)

From ArticleWorld

A spiritual is defined as an African American song that usually incorporates Christian religious lyrics. Its origins can be characterized as a monophonic or a cappella song that is considered to be the ascendant of blues music.


Slaves appeared in European colonies in 1619. They created spirituals that were inspired by religious themes and socio-political tendencies against white Americans. The slaves became a very affordable labor force and quickly replaced servants in the 17th century. The next almost two centuries kept the African Americans under slavery and this was the case until December 18th, 1865. Slaves were freed that day and spirituals started to gain popularity. Before that day African-Americans were abused. Sometimes they were forced to become Christians and their native religion was banned. They were basically not allowed to do anything that would link back to their country in art or tradition. Because of the oppressions suffered and restrictions imposed the slaves needed to held hidden services and their religion still survived. Historians refer to these hidden meetings as “camp meetings” or “bush meetings”. In these places the African-Americans could practice their religious customs like spiritual possession, ring shouts, chants and more. In these sessions they developed a new style of line singing and eventually “Negro Spirituals” appeared. Contrary to the intended purpose of exposing slaves to Christianity (to enslave them even more) the result was opposite. They saw religion as a motivation towards fighting for liberation and several themes, especially from the Old Testament, were taken in. Spirituals became a method of liberating the slaves spiritually and they eased their day to day boredom. Another practice that started to appear was in the lyrics. Several verses held hidden instructions for escaping. If the slave was caught singing Spirituals with the hidden meaning the patron would not realize what it really meant. The songs had religious themes but hidden meanings.


Because of Harry Burleigh (1866-1949), spirituals started to develop into an art form. He started to compose songs and because of attending a music conservatory his knowledge was higher then that of regular African-Americans. His example was followed by other black people and Spirituals eventually evolved to the recognized form it has today.