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Spirituals in their Raw Form

Hi there!
 
I am a student at SDSU and am currently looking for a collection of Negro spirituals in their "raw" form. Meaning unarranged, preferably without accompaniment. It does not need to be in SATB (or any variant). 
 
If anyone would be kind enough to suggest or even post a collection, I would be very grateful!
 
Thank you so much!
 
- HT
 
 
Replies (8): Threaded | Chronological
on December 6, 2013 3:42pm
Have you consulted Slave Songs of the United States?
on December 7, 2013 7:06am
Honseng,
You will find two types of resources.   The one you are probably looking for is a resource where the Spirituals are transcribed as written music.   Spirituals evolved in the folk tradition so for every given Spiritual you can find many “original” versions.   The version of “Row, Michael, Row” in the book AIN’T YOU GOT A RIGHT TO THE TREE OF LIFE? bears little resemblance to “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” that we sing today. (Source: Recorded and edited by Guy and Candice Carawan, Brown Thrasher Books, University of Georgia Press).
 
The other place to look (and I would say the first place to look) are the oral resources, the old recordings collected by Alan Lomax Sr. and others.   These are oral traditions, not written traditions.   As soon as they are written down, they lose so much.
 
The Smithsonian has two resources you can look into for the old recordings.
www.smithsonianglobalsound.org
 
Vocabulary: I used to say “rote tradition” but Ysaye Barnwell, formerly of Sweet Honey In The Rock, corrected me.   I now say “oral tradition.”   She argues that when we say “rote” it implies that the written tradition came first and that “rote” is an alternative way of learning the songs.   But the oral tradition came first (by a few thousand years).
 
When we say “raw” to describe the early Spirituals, we fall into to the same trap that I did by using the word “rote.”   “Raw” can imply that the written arranged Spirituals are pure and correct and that the original Spirituals lack polish or are flawed in some way.  
 
I do not wish to diminish the beauty of arranged Spirituals.  They are beautiful and a natural part of the evolution in the folk process.   But in order for a tradition to stay alive, it must continue to evolve.   As soon as we write them down or sing versions recorded by others they cease to evolve.   I have attended many sings led by the great Alice Parker.   She teaches these songs in the oral tradition and she encourages creative contributions by her singers.   They make up counterpoints and harmonies.   She ensures that the tradition stays alive.
 
I applaud your seeking these earlier versions.
 
Nick Page
www.nickmusic.com
 
Applauded by an audience of 3
on December 7, 2013 7:57am
Thank you Cliff and Nick, that was very informative. 
 
To Nick, I now realize that trap that you explained with the word "raw" and "rote". I will be sure to keep that in mind. 
 
Thank you for the suggestions once again, they will surely allow me to finish my task!
 
- HT
on December 7, 2013 8:15am
Try to find anything by John Wesley Work Jr., John Wesley Work III, and Frederick Jerome Work, all from Fisk University, who published 2 or 3 of the first collections of spirituals starting around 1900.
on December 7, 2013 8:45am
American Negro Songs and Spirituals edited by John W. Work.  Bonanza Books, New York (1940) is a fantastic collection!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on December 8, 2013 4:20am
Try "Sinful Tunes and Spirituals." by Epstein, "African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia" by Conway for books.  For albums, try "Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia," and I second the Smithsonian Folkways recordings.  One of my favorite genres.  Have fun!
on December 8, 2013 6:59pm
I did some research on this subject, and found this site, dedicated to "antique" gospel music, to be most helpful.  http://www.negrospirituals.com/  It even contains recordings in their raw form without accompaniment, as they would have originally been sung.
on December 9, 2013 10:43am
In addition to the historical recordings, I'd suggest modern recordings by groups like Sweet Honey in the Rock, who are part of the tradition and bring an improvisatory approach which is probably similar to one of the ways Spirituals were sung historically.  
 
One of my favorite John Lomax recordings is readily available on YouTube: his 1939 recording of Children Go And I Will Send Thee, by prisoners at the Arkansas State Prison. 
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