Spirituals (Day Twenty-Six of Homemade Music)

Welcome to 31 Days of Homemade Music! This month we are exploring how and why everyone can benefit from being an active participant in music making. To read more posts in this series, click here.

Let’s check out another common folk genre- the Spiritual. From work songs to freedom songs to praise songs, African American heritage has passed on a broad repertoire of beautiful music. Now spirituals are spread and sung by many people groups in America, particularly in choral music.

Follow the Drinking Gourd. A familiar spiritual that was actually a map for slaves trying to escape to the north. The drinking gourd was code for the big dipper, and many of the song’s lyrics give instructions for navigating the Underground Railroad.  You can click here for detailed information on each of the song’s lyrics. You can find the chords for the song here.

Swing Low Sweet Chariot- An enlivening acapella version of a well-known spiritual, sung by the Plantation Singers. This song speaks longingly of the day when the Lord will “swing low” in his chariot to take his people home to glory, safe at last from sin and sorrow. Of course, it could also be metaphorical- referring to the day of salvation, or even to freedom from slavery. I posted this song on my Facebook page a few days ago, but I liked it so much I just have to put it on the blog too. For some more information and the chords, click here.

The last one I’ll share with you today is Roll, Jordan, Roll. If you haven’t noticed yet, crossing the River Jordan has become a great symbol of crossing over to heaven to Christians of many heritages. This song portrays that hope beautifully. Grab the chords here.

(This video clip is from the movie 12 Years a Slave, based on the autobiograpy by Solmon Northup. While a very powerful and moving film chock full of traditional music, it deals poignantly with the cruel realities of American slavery and is definitely not for every viewer.)

Spirituals are wonderful for practicing acapella singing, part singing, call and response, percussion, or just regular old strumming with a guitar. Which song will you try next?

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