The Negro Spiritual Royalties Project
By Susan DeSelms
October 28, 2021 - 2:29pm
Dear United Parish Family,
This Sunday, we are talking about the Negro Spiritual and its role in our lives as Christians. This Little Light of Mine, Honey in the Rock, Go Tell it On the Mountain, Were You There When They Crucified My Lord, these and hundreds of others are part of the canon known to most Black Americans as Negro Spirituals. To most white Americans, they are African American Spirituals, or simply Spirituals. This Sunday, we are launching a brand new racial justice initiative centered on the musical legacy of enslaved Africans, and their descendants. Unlike other hymns and worship music, Negro Spirituals were not published until after the names of their creators were long forgotten, if they were ever even known. They have moved and inspired countless composers, music makers, and people of faith, and have fueled the music industry.
Spirituals provided healing and strength to the enslaved, and they have the same effect on us today, no matter what color our skin is, or how relatively unimpressive our burdens are. God’s love and mercy flows through the Negro Spirituals with force. Could the Spirituals, in all of their glory, also be empowering us to lose sight of the evil and hate that gave slavery and all that went with it such a powerful foothold? The same evil and hate that requires that we must continue to publicly testify the obvious truth that 'Black Lives Matter'? Is it wrong for us to even be singing these songs that were witness to the sins of our past? Is it wrong to avoid singing these songs in worship? Somehow, the answer to all of these questions is “No,” which tells us that something needs to be fixed.
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes
are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect
to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans, 13:7-8
From now on, each and every time we sing Spirituals at the United Parish, the plate offering will support the development of Black artists and musicians. For at least the next two years, the “royalties” we collect will go to the Hamilton-Garret Music and Arts Academy in Dorchester, an organization that we will learn more about on Sunday.
O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
You—you alone, of all the long, long line
Of those who’ve sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine....
You sang far better than you knew; the songs
That for your listeners’ hungry hearts sufficed
Still live,—but more than this to you belongs:
You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.
From O Black and Unknown Bards, by James Weldon Johnson
Enslaved African Americans left behind a legacy of breathtakingly beautiful music. They soothe, inspire, break down walls, protest indignities, preach the gospel, teach us how to pray, and show us the path of righteousness. This Sunday, please bring your own special offering so that we may start on this journey toward justice and healing together - so that we too may join the chorus of believers singing for a better day.
Minister of Music
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Image credit: A River That Grows by Patricia Sabree