WPR Music Hosts Explore Traditional Spirituals

Many Composers Have Drawn Inspiration From Rich Musical Tradition

An open sheet music book
Mic JohnsonLP (CC-BY)

Traditional spirituals have always been a part of our music programs at WPR, but this week our daytime classical music includes a special focus on them.

Created by generations of enslaved Africans, spirituals tell the stories of their sorrows, celebrations, and hopes for freedom.

It’s a rich and varied tradition. Many composers have arranged spirituals and incorporated them into their works. Here are a few great examples to explore:

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American baritone Jubilant Sykes performs “Go Down, Moses,” one of the best-known spirituals. The singers expressed their own hopes through the story of the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery.

Rachel Barton Pine performs this instrumental arrangement of “Deep River”.

Deep river, my home is over Jordan.
Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into campground.

Oh, don’t you want to go to that Gospel-feast?
That Promised Land, where all is peace?

References to journeys often meant both the journey to heaven and the hoped-for journey to freedom. The Robert Shaw Chorale sings “Same Train.”

Adolphus Hailstorck made this arrangement of “We Shall Overcome”. It’s one of a set of three spirituals arranged for string quartet.

The great trumpet player and singer Louis Armstrong recorded his own take on “Go Down Moses” in 1958.

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