This series of free, digital programs explores the ways some Black American composers have found inspiration in the rich tradition of spirituals. The Gardner Museum builds on its ongoing partnership with the Boston-based ensemble Castle of our Skins to create four short videos exploring this repertoire.
The Museum’s collection includes Isabella’s personal copy of Afro-American Folksongs (1914), which features arrangements of spirituals by the eminent Harry T. Burleigh. As a composer, arranger, and performer, Burleigh was at the epicenter of an early group of composers who championed spirituals as “pure gold.” You can learn more about this book on the blog.
This video series aims to lift up some of the enormous body of music created by generations of composers who drew on that powerful river of song, which W. E. B. Dubois said “stands today not simply as the sole American music, but as the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas." (The Souls of Black Folk, 1903)
About Castle of our Skins
Born out of the desire to foster cultural curiosity, Castle of our Skins is a concert and educational series dedicated to celebrating Black artistry through music. From classrooms to concert halls, Castle of our Skins invites exploration into Black heritage and culture, spotlighting both unsung and celebrated figures of past and present.
Resources for Further Inquiry
- Hill, Helen Walker. From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music. University of Illinois Press, 2007.
- Kernodle, Tammy; Horace Maxille & Emmett G. Price III. Encyclopedia of African American Music [3 volumes]. ABC-CLIO, 2010.
- Shirley, Wayne D. "The Coming of 'Deep River'", American Music, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Winter 1997), pp. 493–534.
- Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.
- Southern, Eileen. Readings in Black American Music. W. W. Norton & Company, 1972.
- Snyder, Jean E. Harry T. Burleigh: From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance. University of Illinois Press, 2016.
- Ward, Andrew. Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
Landmark Collections of Spirituals
- Burleigh, Harry T. The Spirituals of Harry T. Burleigh. Alfred Music Publishing, 2007.
- Johnson, James Weldon and Johnson, J. Rosamond. The Books of American Negro Spirituals. Viking Press, 1925 (Vol I) & 1926 (Vol II).
- Krehbiel, Henry Edward. Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music. G. Schirmer, 1914.
- Marsh, J. B. T. The story of the Jubilee Singers: with their Songs. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1883.
- Seward, Theodore F., White, George L., Cravath, E. M., Editors. Jubilee songs: as sung by the Jubilee Singers, of Fisk University. Biglow & Main, 1872.
- Taylor, Vivian, Editor. Art Songs and Spirituals by African-American Women Composers. Hildegard Publishing Company, 2014.
- White, Clarence Cameron. Forty Negro Spirituals: Compiled and Arranged for Solo Voice. Theodore Presser Co., 1927.
- EmoryFindingAids : William Levi Dawson papers, 1903-1990
- Frederick Tillis Papers Finding Aid : Special Collections and Archives, UMass Amherst
- Center for Black Music Research - College Archives - Columbia College Chicago
- Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson papers, 1975-1978 (New York Public Library)
- Collection: Margaret Bonds papers | Archives at Yale
- EmoryFindingAids : George Walker papers, 1915-2008 [bulk 1945-2008]
- Fisk University: Jubilee Singers Archives (Original), 1858-1924
- Fisk University: Jubilee Singers Archive (European Tour Collection), 1873-1878
- Gardner Museum Blog, The Sole American Music: Spirituals During Isabella's Time, 2020.
- Katelyn Greenidge, “Black Spirituals as Poetry and Resistance,” The New York Times, March 5, 2021.
- Spirituals Database, created by Soprano and researcher Randye Jones.
- Harry T. Burleigh Society
- Spirituals in the Library of Congress, Article African American Spirituals
- Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the Musical Fight for Civil Rights , Royal College of Music Digital Exhibition
- Wade in the Water, a podcast series produced by NPR and the Smithsonian Institution
- Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory | American Experience, a film series by PBS.
- American Archive, Interviews conducted for the film Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory.
Buy from an excellent Boston Black-owned bookstore
Frugal Bookstore, Roxbury. They are happy to order any in-print titles.
A helpful list of other bookstores