by Cary Stemle
In the post-WWII years, blues music entered the mainstream. Less is known about Negro spirituals, a form wholly created by African-American slaves who melded European music, African traditions and biblical texts into something unique and powerful. The spiritual functioned on many levels, including as code for impending actions and as a way to ward off insanity while working the fields under duress. Later, during the Civil Rights movement, it was a natural unifying factor.
“The Spirituals” is a new PBS documentary featuring the American Spiritual Ensemble, a troupe of high-level singers founded by University of Kentucky professor Everett McCorvey. The ensemble travels widely, performing and discussing the spiritual, which, frankly, is in peril because younger generations don’t seem to dig it. The ensemble folks are doing good work, and the documentary provides hope that their efforts will help preserve an important facet of American culture.
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