American religious song first associated with the revival movement sometimes called the Second Awakening at the turn of the 19th century and especially with the large, outdoor, often impromptu camp meetings inspired by itinerant preachers. The songs had to be simple in form and text because of the temporary character of the congregation consisting mostly of illiterate white laborers and African American slaves. Call-and-response forms, simplified wellknown texts by Isaac Watts and others, and improvised refrains are typical. Because the congregation was biracial, if not integrated, the camp meeting provided a rare but important venue for musical exchange between white and black sacred song.
   Another group of spirituals originated among the African American slaves during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, who sang them at formal services, more casually outside of church, and during ecstatic group dances known as "shouts" or "ring-shouts." The shout usually began at the close of a sermon, with movement and singing initiated by a single person and spreading throughout the congregation. Because of the significant role of drumming in African tribal religions, these spirituals were almost always accompanied by some improvised percussion by striking on pots or other makeshift drum and by using the body: hand-clapping, stomping, body-slapping, and vocal percussion. The most common textual themes were personal salvation expressed in terms of liberation from bondage, as in the Exodus story.
   The spiritual quickly moved into established churches. In Philadelphia, in 1803, John Scott published Hymns and Spiritual Songs for {}the Use of Christians, the first printed collection of camp meeting spirituals, and others quickly followed within the decade. It leapt onto the national stage with the 1871–1872 tour of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a chorus of former slaves studying at Fisk University of Nashville, Tenn., who became something of a sensation after an inspirational rendition of the Northern CivilWar song The Battle Hymn {}of the Republic in Boston in 1872. The Fisk chorus embarked on tours of Canada and Europe, introducing the spiritual to the world. The spirituals of the Fisk singers had been harmonized and arranged by their director George White to be suitable for concert performance. Versions of these appeared in Jubilee Songs (New York, 1872) by Theodore F. Seward. Both these and subsequent recording efforts have been criticized as too much influenced by European musical language—and in fact notation captures even less of the spiritual’s essence than of most other forms—but on the other hand such efforts brought the spiritual to the wider Western world. Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866–1949) further promoted the spiritual as concert music with his collection arranged for solo voice and piano, Jubilee {}Songs of the United States of America (New York, 1916). In 1929, he published Old Songs Hymnal (New York), spirituals arranged very simply for nonprofessionals "to be used in church and home and school, preserving to us this precious heritage."

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.


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