Give Now  »

Deep River: The African American Choral Spiritual

From the days of slavery 150 years ago, the African American spiritual grew out of the earliest days of Black America.

Over time, spirituals spread across denominations, cultures, and concert venues around the country and the world. Many of us have heard this music without being aware of how deep the meaning and history run beneath the surface.

This special radio program is produced in partnership with IU's African American Arts Institute, and is hosted by Ross Gay, a poet and professor of creative writing. Our guest is IU Emeritus Professor James E. Mumford-performer, composer, educator, and director of IU's African American Choral Ensemble for more than two decades.

Spirituals, according to Dr. Mumford, are "books in the library of primary sources of the real experiences of enslaved Africans." Spirituals can tell us "how they felt about slavery, were able to endure it; define it; adapt it; hate it; to fight it, and to eventually come out of it."

The language in spirituals, their poetry, comes out of the necessity to use double entendre in order to veil the messages hidden in each song. As Dr. Mumford says, "one finds in the Spirituals the polarities of hope and despair, joy and sorrow, death and life."

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From