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They Bear Acquaintance

African American Spirituals and the Camp Meetings


Nancy L. Graham

Identifying the roots of African American spirituals and other religious folk music has intrigued academics, hymnologists and song leaders since this genre came to the public eye in 1867. The conversation on origins has waned and waxed for over eighty years, sometimes polemical, sometimes compromising. They Bear Acquaintance looks at this discussion through the output of various well-regarded researchers from the twentieth century. The effects of cultural distinctions, immigration patterns and class structure have all left their imprint on the anatomy of the music. No one living has ever heard a spiritual performed in an authentic setting, so misconceptions abound. Pre-dating the American Civil War and achieving global attention in the Civil Rights movement, the spirituals soften the edges of difficult situations, and speak gently, yet poignantly, to human struggles. The book also pinpoints new material from a wide range of sources in the twenty-first century that will preserve and affirm this music for many years to come.

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Chapter 2: The Song Emerges


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The Song Emerges

Despite the crude conditions endured by the non-native inhabitants of the Atlantic Coast, the seventeenth-century settlements were not without music. Instruments were rare, but before long before rude stringed boards and wooden flutes made appearances in the homes for personal use. Many of the immigrants coming to the New World between 1620 and 1750 were marginalized in some way. Whether fleeing religious persecution, the poorhouse, or law enforcement, the folk came, hoping for some sort of relief. They carried few possessions but it was not unusual to find a Bible and hymnal amongst their meager baggage. These books often carried political significance and identification. Protestants of the non-conformist sort rather than Puritans found respite in the Carolinas and Pennsylvania. In this chapter, I will trace the devolution of printed material into much of the oral tradition in the colonies and its consequent evolution to the outburst of hymnals and song collections of the late nineteenth century.

The Implementation of Spiritual Song

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