Negro Spirituals

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Negro Spirituals
Spirituals, a religious folk song of American origin, particularly associated with African-American Protestants of the southern United States. The African-American spiritual, characterized by syncopation, polyrhythmic structure, and the pentatonic scale of five whole tones, is, above all, a deeply emotional song. Spirituals are really the most characteristic product of the race genius as yet in America. But the very elements which make them uniquely expressive of the Negro make them at the same time deeply representative of the soil that produced them. Spirituals were long thought to be the only original folk music of the United States, and research into its origin centered mainly on the nature and extent of its African
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From this point of view we have essentially four classes, the almost ritualistic prayer songs or pure Spirituals, the freer and more unrestrained evangelical "shouts" or camp-meeting songs, the folk ballads so overlaid with the tradition of the Spirituals proper that their distinctive type quality has almost been unnoticed until lately, and the work and labor songs of strictly significant character. Indeed, in the pure Spirituals one can trace the broken fragments of an evangelical folk liturgy, with confession, exhortation, "mourning," conversion and "love-feast" rejoicing as the general stages of a Protestant folk-mass. It is not a question of religious content or allusion, for the great majority of the Negro songs have this more delicate question of caliber of feeling and type of folk use. The distinctiveness of the Spirituals after all and their finest meaning resides in their musical elements. The characteristic beauty of the folk song is harmonic, in distinction to the more purely rhythmic stress in the secular music of the Negro, which is the basis of "ragtime" and "jazz"; while regarding the one as the African component in them, and the other as the modifying influence of the religious hymn.
In the United States the rhythmic element, though still dominant, has ceded measurably to the melodic, the dance having given way to religious worship,
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