Spirituals

Sharecroppers working in cotton fields near Memphis, 1922, 94.109.1a

I Have A Voice Intro

Spirituals

The Blues

Gospel

From Blues to Blue Suede Shoes

Soul

Who Can Sing the Blues

 

 

 

Sharecroppers working in cotton fields near Memphis, 1922. 94.109.1a

The history of African American music follows the hardship of slavery in America. The slaves’ African ancestors infused their everyday life with spirited rhythm, music, and dancing in sacred and secular rituals. According to tradition, American slaves adapted this music to hand clapping, singing, the fiddle, and the banjo – an African-derived instrument. The music created by slaves served many purposes. At the most obvious level, many songs helped maintain the tempo of everyday work. At the same time; however, songs could provide a vehicle for resistance or help to express hope for freedom.

Expressing their sorrows from bondage, and joy for their ultimate deliverance, the slaves found an original, musical voice sung in their spirituals and folk music. This voice has left a monumental cultural stamp on American music, including blues, ragtime, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and soul music. In turn, this music has influenced and enriched music around the world.

Click to hear: 
Lightning Washington and prisoners perform the fieldholler Good God Almighty recorded by John A. and Alan Lomax at Darrington State Prison Farm, Sandy Point, Texas, December 1933

 

Spirituals: The Fisk Jubilee Singers

Fisk Jubilee Singers
Fisk Jubilee Singers, 1882. Courtesy of the Tennessee State Library & Archives

In 1873 the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the student choir at Fisk University in Nashville, embarked on the first of a series of concert tours abroad introducing “slave songs” to the world. They broke racial barriers in the United States and entertained kings and queens in Europe with spirituals like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “I've Been Redeemed,” and “Rolling Through an Unfriendly World.” They raised nearly $50,000 on the first tour, which prevented closure of their African American university. 

Click to hear:
Fisk Jubilee Singers perform Ezekiel Saw the Wheel (1926)

Tennessee State Museum
505 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37243-1120
FREE ADMISSION
 
Open: Tuesday - Saturday:
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m.
Closed: Mondays and four holidays: New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
(615) 741-2692
TOLL-FREE: 800-407-4324
museuminfo@tnmuseum.org

 

 

 

 
 
tn4me
Tennessee State Museum
505 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37243-1120
FREE ADMISSION
 
Open: Tuesday - Saturday:
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m.
Closed: Mondays and four holidays: New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
(615) 741-2692
TOLL-FREE: 800-407-4324
museuminfo@tnmuseum.org

 

 

 

 
 
tn4me