Black Music Month Pt. 2 of 4: Spirituals & Gospel Music

Emerging out of the rich tradition of work and prison songs were the spirituals and gospel music.

The choir sings its praises

To begin, spirituals expanded the role of song beyond the plantation grounds and prison walls.  It expressed the newly embraced tenants of Christianity of the enslaved.  In short, the spirituals articulated the sureness of a paradise after a long life of bondage.  The songs narrated the promise of God through individuals of the Old Testament and ultimately reinforced salvation, as they were hymn lined through call and response in churches and prayer houses [Negro Spirituals].

Gospel music expanded the role of song further for the enslaved and free black bodies.  It encompassed the promise of the spirituals but also added the lyrical account of a personal relationship with Jesus.  Gospel music was first testimonial in that it relayed to the listener the fruits of faith through the many trials of life.  In this way, gospel also reinforced salvation, but on a more personal level.  Furthermore, gospel’s music signified the genre like no other form of black music. Its choir and instrumentation: organ, piano, drums, bass, guitar (a contemporary musical element), are used in unique ways to achieve and maintain a heighten level of Christian worship.  You know it when you hear it.  When spirituals and gospel are expressed sincerely they do indeed invite the Holy Spirit into worship.

Spirituals and gospel, music according to scholars, are the purest form of black music in terms of how the genre parallels and revolves around the black presence in the U.S.  They are heavily and undeniably embedded in black culture.  Spirituals and gospel has continually allowed the black soul to experience freedom, and great joy in the midst of hardship.

Continue to enjoy and embrace Black Music Month and take a listen to some spirituals and gospel music:

A classic spiritual:

Gospel by Sam Cook.  Contemporary R&B has its roots firmly planted in Gospel.

Contemporary Gospel is powerful.

Gospel is very personal.


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