The Art of the Negro Spiritual is a research project that is looking into the rich history of the Negro Spiritual as written for solo vocal performance. We are researching the development of spirituals from the folk music of slaves of the United States to the art songs set for performance on the concert stage.
The goal of this project is to gather into one book information that will become a primary resource for the singer, vocal teacher, and musicologist.
Topics of our research include:
- History of the Negro spiritual
- Biographies of composers and performers
- Annotated bibliography of resources
- Discography of commercial recordings
- Analysis of published scores
The anticipated results of this research will be presented as a book with accompanying compact disc recording of selected spirituals performed by the lead researcher, soprano Randye Jones. Selections from the book's initial chapters will be published on this site as an e-book.
There are now two installments available. The first is a bibliography of general resources. Also, the first part of a discography of recordings of spirituals has just been added. Both can be accessed from the e-book version page.
Part of the research project involves presentations of spirituals in recitals and lectures or other related events. These programs serve as opportunities to share the information gathered with the public. For more information about upcoming presentations, visit the ANS Recitals, Lectures and Recordings page.
Highlights among Ms. Jones' recent presentations:
- Presented the lecture-recital, "Use of Dialect in the Solo Performance of Negro Spirituals," during the REAP National Conference on the Spirituals at the University of Denver. The conference was held June 13-15, 2013. For more information visit http://spiritualsproject.org/reap-conference/.
- Presenter at The Phenomenon of Singing International Symposium VIII in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Her topic, "Interpreting Spiritual Art Songs," was one of approximately 80 proposals from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, Finland, Spain, Ireland, Indonesia, United States, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Argentina and Germany selected for the July 13-19, 2011, symposium program.
- Panelist on the October 8, 2010, discussion of "Slavery and Gender" on Worldcanvass. The program was broadcast on UITV. The portion in which Ms. Jones spoke and sang is available on this audio recording.
- Conducted a live interview on Iowa Public Radio's The Exchange, hosted by Ben Kieffer, on Monday, April 28, 2008. She included recordings of spirituals performed with pianists Timothy Newton and William Tinker during recitals given on the Grinnell College campus, discussed the unique nature of performing spirituals set for concert performance and how she became interested in this American musical form. Listen to interview.
Additional upcoming performances, lectures and other presentations will be announced here as details are confirmed.
To view other programs, papers--such as The Gospel Truth about the Negro Spiritual, pictures, etc. from previous ANS events, and to inquire about scheduling an ANS event, please visit the ANS Recitals, Lectures and Recordings page.
In March, 2015, Ms. Jones launched The Spirituals Database, a resource that provides searchable information on over 1,600 tracks from recordings of Spirituals written for the solo voice. As a part of The Art of the Negro Spiritual, it carries on the efforts to discover and share information about this music's potential role in developing a singer's repertoire.
The project's goal is the eventual publication of a discography of Spiritual art songs.
The primary--but far from exclusive--audience for The Spirituals Database is the voice student and coach/teacher who is looking for these recorded resources. All too often, recordings may be the first exposure a vocalist or vocal instructor has to the Spiritual. That person, likely unfamiliar with the genre and with the singers who have recorded these art songs, can use The Spirituals Database to find these recorded resources for the study of how Spirituals can be performed in a concert setting.
Even the more experienced performer of this repertoire will have reason to seek out information about the wide range of recordings--including a number of rare or out-of-print long-playing (33 1/3 rpm) and 78 rpm albums, audio cassettes and 45 rpm discs--represented here.
The Spirituals Database is accessed at: spirituals-database.com.
From Randye Jones: Long-Sleeping Fantasy Awakened
I'm sharing a long-sleeping fantasy that was reawakened by a recital I just "attended." Several years ago, I was introduced to a book of drawings by Allan Rohan Crite based on the spiritual, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord."
In Crite's description of his approach, he states, "The illustrations portray the two natures of Christ, the human and the divine. Thus I have tried to show the two aspects of the Crucifixion, the historical incident and the Eternal Spiritual Act, both parts of which were suggested by the Spiritual."
The illustrations go from Christ's crucifixion to His ascension. They combine both Biblical history with modern life presented in dynamic, stark black and white images.
I want to find someone who can take these drawings and write a composition for me. The challenge will be to keep both the drawings and the sense of the song and to frame it to fit my voice.
One of the images is on display here since I don't have the words to adequately describe the power of the drawings.
Please let me know if you have suugestions of how I can make this fantasy come true.
New Discussion List
The Negro Spiritual Group is now open on Yahoogroups. This new discussion list:
The Negro Spiritual Group is for anyone interested in discussing all aspects of the genre. This includes: the history of spirituals, the role it played in slavery and the Christian beliefs of slaves, the post-Civil War use of spirituals in choral anthems and solo vocal concert music, and its importance to the American Civil Rights Movement. Posters to the list may not only raise issues and questions, but they may announce upcoming events, newly released publications and recordings, etc. related to Negro Spirituals.
To join the discussion list, complete the form below:
In the News
"Black college choirs preserve beauty of spiritual art form" by Gannett News Service reporter Deborah Berry, dated February 18, 2008, focuses on how Black schools have played a role in the survival of the spiritual. Ms. Jones contributed comments about their efforts.
In its June 12, 2006 edition, the Grinnell (Iowa) Herald-Register published an article about a presentation on "Secret Signals in the Negro Spiritual" given by Ms. Jones on Sunday, June 18, at the Grinnell Historical Museum. The presentation focused on how songs such as "Go Down Moses" and "Steal Away" were used to communicate among slaves, especially those who travelled the Underground Railroad.
The April 9, 2004, edition of The Carolina Peacemaker covered one of Ms. Jones' recent lecture-recitals on "The Gospel Truth about the Negro Spiritual," held in Greensboro, North Carolina. In the article, "Jones Tells the Gospel Truth," writer Ayodele Murphy remarks that, "Add the skills of a vocalist, a passion for performing and a love of research and you will have a few of the ingredients that make up Randye Jones." View the article.
Ms. Jones and ANS were profiled in the November 22, 2003, edition of Billboard newspaper. Writer Jim Bessman described Come Down Angels as, "the first fruits of her ongoing research of the history of 'art song settings' of Negro spirituals" in the article entitled, "Soprano Gives New Life to Spirituals." The article can be accessed here.
She was interviewed for an article in the October 2, 2003, edition of The Gazette. The article, written by the paper's religion editor, Linda Phelps, describes some of the challenges involved in the production of Come Down Angels. Ms. Phelps also wrote an article entitled, "Researcher Finds Answers to Negro Spiritualism Questions," for the June 6, 2002, edition.
The e-journal, MusicDish, published an article entitled, "The Art of the Negro Spiritual: From Cotton Fields to Concert Hall: An Interview With Soprano/Researcher Randye Jones," on February 4, 2003. The article was based on an interview with MusicDish assistant editor Anne Freeman. To read this interview, visit http://www.musicdish.com/mag/?id=7465.
To view press releases distributed about ANS, visit our Press Release page.
Because ANS receives a number of emails with questions and/or information that were potentially of general interest, we have opened up a forum called "ANS Talks." It is available for discussion of issues and announcement of events involving the Negro spiritual. Visitors may also submit research questions or music search queries. Click on the link below to access the forum.
Thank you for your interest in The Art of the Negro Spiritual. Other research by Randye Jones is featured at Afrocentric Voices in Classical Music. To learn more about soprano and researcher Randye Jones, view her biography.
The Art of the Negro Spiritual
PO Box 281
Grinnell, IA 50112
Phone: 641/821-0188 FAX: 641/236-5253