Black History Month & Music: Part 3 of 12

“…As the legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker once told Down Beat magazine, ‘You take spirituals and the blues. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think I’m right – the blues come from spirituals. They are the background of all music.’

The spirituals and gospel music endure because they matter, because their appeal, their power, cut across the generations, across racial and religious lines, across the ages, across the oceans.”

-From Robert Darden’s book People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music

A pivotal phase in not only Black History, but American History, was taking place in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The Fugitive Slave Act. Dred Scott. The Civil War. Emancipation. The founding of the Black University.

Truth was slowly getting harder to ignore; Black people were beginning to be heard.

And the church was very much the center.

“Above all, religion is, as Durkheim has made clear, a social phenomenon, a shared group experience that has shaped and influenced the cultural screens of human communication and interpretation….

…The Black Church has no challenger as the cultural womb of the black community. Not only did it give birth to new institutions such as schools, banks, insurance companies, and low income housing, it also provided an academy and an arena for political activities, and it nurtured young talent for musical, dramatic, and artistic development.”

-From Charles Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya’s The Black Church in the African-American Experience

The church is not perfect, that’s not even remotely the point here. The point is the importance of the spiritual, the unexplainable, that has tied so many together for so many years.

During the deepest, darkest days of U.S. slavery, work songs, call and responses, spirituals, were the motivator for so many that had to count on something beyond what could physically be seen.

The church didn’t (or doesn’t) necessarily always represent a building, or a higher power, or a group of people, but a common ground in the midst of a broken and weary world. During this most formulative time in American History, the church took on arguably more importance, especially among African-Americans.

The church has been the incubator for numerous, legendary talent in the American musical repertoire, from Aretha to Beyonce.

In the vast topic being studied herein, the spiritual side laid, and continues to lay, the foundation.


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