European classical influences in modern choral settings of the African-American spiritual

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.)


Music Conducting

First Committee Member

Donald T. Oglesby - Committee Chair


The spiritual is a religious folk song derived from the blending of musical values of African slaves with religious music of American rural southern tradition in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The genre has evolved into an elaborate compositional form through the creative contribution of twentieth century African-American composers trained in the European classical tradition. Within this century a cultural transition has occurred as more African Americans have acquired proficiency in European compositional skills. Many opted to reject the early qualities of the spiritual and, instead, to accept the spiritual as legitimate music only when choral settings were created based on the compositional techniques and traditions of Europe.Factors contributing to the development and lasting appeal of the genre include: (1) the 1871 European tour of the Fisk Jubilee Singers which led to international exposure of spirituals, (2) Anton Dvorak's recognition of spirituals as a fundamental element of America's musical identity during his tenure at the National Conservatory of Music (New York) in 1892--1895, and (3) the Harlem Renaissance and New Negro Movement of 1930--1950 which highlighted the creative activity of many classically educated African-American composers. These musicians were fluent in European compositional techniques and sought to incorporate these techniques within black melodic and rhythmic idioms.As a result of the synthesis of the two musical traditions---the folk music of the Black tradition and the musical forms of the European tradition---we are now exposed to an "intercultural crossroads" in the United States enhanced by the integration of European-derived and African-derived expressions. A voluminous quantity of modern settings of spirituals has been produced by a multicultural array of composers and arrangers, leading to a widespread interest in the genre. Such creativity and interest have resulted in a new appreciation, academic recognition, and intellectual re-examination of the spiritual as an art form. There are now numerous notable performances of spirituals, five and recorded, by college, community, and church choirs at all levels throughout the United States and beyond.


Black Studies; Folklore; Music; Education, Music; Education, Religious

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