Religious folksong born from African enslavement in America.

Cultural Origin

Early 19th century

Influenced By

Call & response, European hymns

Later Influenced
Detail from Jubilee Singers, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee.
Detail from Jubilee Singers, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee.

About The Genre

"A spiritual is a type of religious folk song that is most closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American South. The songs proliferated in the last few decades of the 18th century leading up to the abolishment of legalized slavery in the 1860s. The African American spiritual (also called the Negro Spiritual) constitutes one of the largest and most significant forms of American folksong."
Library of Congress

"A keen observer might have detected in our repeated singing of 'O Canaan, sweet Canaan, I am bound for the land of Canaan,' something more than a hope of reaching heaven. We meant to reach the North, and the North was our Canaan."
Frederick Douglass

Trivia/Famous Lyrics

DId you know...

I looked over Jordan, 
And what did I see,
Comin' for to carry me home,
A band of angels comin' after me,
Comin' for to carry me home.

From Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and think my work's in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

From There is a Balm in Gilead

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring

From Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing"

Artists from this genre

Fisk Jubilee Singers

Fisk Jubilee Singers

They preserved the tradition of Negro spirituals.

James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson

James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson

The composers of "Lift Every Voice And Sing."

MORE Genres from this era



A uniquely American syncopated music and precursor to jazz.