History of the American Negro Spiritual
The American Negro Spirituals are the folk songs created by the enslaved Africans after their arrival in North America between 1619 and 1860. Although slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect January 1, 1863, the enslaved people in Texas did not receive the notice until June 19, 1865, hence the Juneteenth Celebration.
The songs created and sung by enslaved women, men and children were born in North America and recant with dignity, resolve and sometimes joy, their stories of life, death, faith, hope, escape, and survival. These melodies and stories have been passed down orally from generation to generation in the plantation fields, in churches and in camp meetings and have presently taken their places on concert hall stages and recital series around the world. Some may wonder why NATS has chosen to use the classification "American Negro Spiritual" as opposed to a more updated term, and perhaps more contemporary classification like "African-American Spirituals." Dr. Everett McCorvey, founder of the American Spiritual Ensemble and a researcher in this area, comments: “The term 'American Negro Spirituals' speaks to the history, the suffering, the hope and the resolve of a people who were able to sing through their suffering and tell and re-tell their heroic stories of triumph and survival through these songs. It is a story and a history that hopefully will never be forgotten. And while the songs were born out of this very dark period in our American History, these songs are now sung, celebrated, and revered all around the world. While some of the language in the music is updated in order to be sung in a more contemporary style and to remove the barrier of dialect, the melodies, the sentiment and the stories of the spirituals are over 400 years old and need to be sung and remembered. I would encourage teachers and singers to be comfortable with calling the melodies what they are. They are "American Negro Spirituals." Please feel free to call them "Negro Spirituals" or just "Spirituals" or "American Negro Spirituals," but the ultimate goal is for these melodies to be celebrated and sung by all.
— Dr. Everett McCorvey
Founder and Director American Spiritual Ensemble
Artistic Director, National Chorale and Orchestra (New York, New York)
Professor of Voice and Endowed Chair in Opera Studies, University of Kentucky (Lexington, Kentucky)