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Our Song....About the African-American Spiritual

In the ongoing cultural history of people of African-American descent, music has been central. The various and indigenous forms which were created on American soil by African and descendants of enslaved Africans constitute a significant part of American's cultural legacy to the world at large. No genre underlines this fact more significantly than the spiritual. The precursor to the styles that followed (i.e. blues, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues) the spiritual in its continual development has actually come to be influenced by the forms it helped to create.

 

It is a spectacular history in which the most brilliant performers and the most probative composers/arrangers have participated. A veritable who's who list of 20th century artist would include Marion Anderson, Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, Mahalia Jackson, William Warfield, Leontyne Price, Benjamin Matthews, Jesse Norman to site a few. Composers/arrangers would include H.T. Burleigh, William Dawson, Roland Hayes, Nathaniel Dett, Hall Johnson, Margaret Bonds, and Roland Carter. Again, the list is far from complete.

 

At the dawn of the 21st century, the spiritual continues in its evolution and development. Amid the often fractious institutions, special interest, and traditions, performers and creative artist continue to innovate and redefine melodies, text, harmonies, and form in this most resilient of cultural phenomenon. The African-American spiritual (formerly called the Negro spiritual) is alive and well. Its history is being written even as we speak.

 

Roy Jennings

Prologue for the Moses Hogan Workshop/Seminar at Abyssinian Baptist Church, 2002