African American spirituals have long had special meaning in my personal and professional life. My awareness of their significance, however, came relatively late. I did not gain a full appreciation of the spirituals or my African American Christian heritage until I joined a black church in my late teens. Yet my introduction to the African American spirituals came to stand at the very heart of this cultural and spiritual awakening for me. As I began to sing these songs, deeply rooted in both the Bible and the tragedy of slavery, I came to understand their profound meaning. It is no exaggeration to say that through the spirituals I learned to appreciate the dramatic history and depths of the African American religious experience.
Early Publications of Spirituals
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Negro spirituals are songs created by the Africans who were captured and brought to the United States to be sold into slavery. This stolen race was deprived of their languages, families, and cultures; yet, their masters could not take away their music. Over the years, these slaves and their descendants adopted Christianity, the religion of their masters. They re-shaped it into a deeply personal way of dealing with the oppression of their enslavement.
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For instance, the present writer had been a faithful student of the Scottish ballads, and had always envied Sir Walter the delight of tracing them out amid their own heather, and of writing them down piecemeal from the lips of aged crones. It was a strange enjoyment, therefore, to be suddenly brought into the midst of a kindred world of unwritten songs, as simple and indigenous as the Border Minstrelsy, more uniformly plaintive, almost always more quaint, and often as essentially poetic. This interest was rather increased by the fact that I had for many years heard of this class of songs under the name of "Negro Spirituals," and had even heard some of them sung by friends from South Carolina. I could now gather on their own soil these strange plants which I had before seen as in museums alone. True, the individual songs rarely coincided; there was a line here, a chorus there, -- just enough to fix the class, but this was unmistakable. It was not strange that they differed, for the range seemed almost endless, and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida seemed to have nothing but the generic character in common, until all were mingled in the united stock of camp melodies. Often in the starlit evening I have returned from some lonely ride by the swift river, or on the plover-haunted barrens, and, entering the camp, have silently approached some glimmering fire, round which the dusky figures moved in the rhythmical barbaric dance the negroes call a "shout," chanting, often harshly, but always in the most perfect time, some monotonous refrain.
Spirituals also known as Negro spirituals , Spiritual music , or African-American spirituals   is a genre of songs originating in the United States and created by African Americans. The term "spiritual" is derived from "spiritual song", from the King James Bible 's translation of Ephesians , which says, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Musicologist George Pullen Jackson extended the term "spiritual" to a wider range of folk hymnody, as in his book, White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands , but this does not appear to have been widespread usage previously. The term, however, has often been broadened to include subsequent arrangements into more standard European-American hymnodic styles, and to include post-emancipation songs with stylistic similarities to the original African American spirituals. Although numerous rhythmical and sonic elements of spirituals can be traced to African sources, spirituals are a musical form that is indigenous and specific to the religious experience in the United States of Africans and their descendants. They are a result of the interaction of music and religion from Africa with music and religion of European origin. Africans who converted to Christianity in other parts of the world, even in the Caribbean and Latin America , did not evolve this particular form. The enslaved people brought West African cultural traditions with them.