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Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry$
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Sandra Jean Graham

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041631

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252041631.001.0001

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The Folk Spiritual

The Folk Spiritual

(p.1) Chapter 1 The Folk Spiritual
Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry

Sandra Jean Graham

University of Illinois Press

Spirituals are religious folk songs created by African Americans in the early nineteenth century. This chapter defines folk spirituals as orally transmitted songs with variable texts and melodies, a typically responsorial structure (call and response), textual and melodic repetition, typically gapped scales, and an ambiguous approach to pitch in performance. The texts tend to focus on crossing over into the heavenly afterlife, and performances encourage communal participation. As folk music, the performance of each spiritual is unique and improvisatory. This chapter describes traits of folk spirituals and methods of composition, surveys secondary literature on its origins in the black church and the camp meeting, and recounts the earliest efforts to transcribe spirituals.

Keywords:   Folk spiritual, ring shout, camp meeting, Richard Allen, first transcriptions/arrangements of spirituals, Gullah culture, Slave Songs of the United States (book 1867)

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