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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 yet in America. However, the very elements that 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 ancestry. Because slaves were brought to the United States from many parts of Africa, no single African musical source is clear. Elements that African music and American black spirituals have in common include syncopation, polyrhythmic structure, the pentatonic scale, and a responsive rendition of text.

Almost all the first Africans who arrived in the New World were slaves. They came from several regions of the African West Coast. Their ways of living were described by slaves themselves, in some narratives. They had to work either in plantations or in town. Slavery was an important issue facing churches, as slaves were allowed to meet for Christian services. Some Christian ministers wrote against on slavery. Rural slaves used to stay after the regular worship services, in churches or in plantation "praise houses", for singing and dancing. Nevertheless, slaveholders did not allow dancing and playing drums, as usual in Africa. They also had meetings at secret places ("camp meetings", "bush meetings"), because they needed to meet one another and share their joys, pains and hopes. In rural meetings, thousands slaves were gathered and listened to itinerant preachers, and...