Photo Caption: “The Old Plantation (Slaves Dancing on a South Carolina Plantation)” [ca. 1785-1795]. Attributed to John Rose, Beaufort County, SC. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Williamsburg, VA.

One of the largest and most significant forms of American folksongs, the Negro spiritual, has a long history in America, but how do these religious songs relate to the music heard in the Black church today? “American Black Journal” continues its “Black Church in Detroit” series with a look at the history of Negro spirituals and gospel music, and the influence these two genres have had on contemporary artists.

“Black gospel music is an offset of the Negro spiritual. One of the main differences between the two is that we are not exactly aware of the composers,” said Dr. Brandon Waddles, a composer, arranger, choir director and music instructor at Wayne State University. “However, there are known composers of famous gospel songs.”

RELATED: View American Black Journal’s gospel music performance archives!

Producer AJ Walker talks with Waddles about how Negro spirituals uplifted enslaved Africans brought to this country and how it served as a universal language that helped lead them to freedom. Plus, they discuss R&B singers, past and present, whose musical roots stemmed from the Black Church.


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Watch American Black Journal on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on Detroit Public TV, WTVS-Channel 56.