A Century of Negro Spirituals for Solo Voice–The Pioneers


2016 marked the 100th anniversary of Harry T. Burleigh‘s publication of “Deep River,” which is considered to be the first time a Negro Spiritual was used as source material for an art song.  “Deep River” inspired singers of “Classical” music to program Spirituals into their concert repertoire and composers to explore how their own vocal musical expressions might be enriched by inclusion of the Spiritual in their works.

This document serves to highlight a sampling of the many composers and singers who have forged art songs from this powerful American folk music.  It will develop in stages.  Stage one will consists of approximately twenty videos of historic and contemporary performers singing Spiritual art songs composed over the years.  Some entries will also link to composer and performer biographies on the Afrocentric Voices site, and the songs’ album titles will link to track information on The Spirituals Database. Over time, details will be added, including biographical information about composers and/or performers, musical score and book resources, additional videos and images.

Your patience is requested as this page develops. 

The Pioneers: Burleigh to Hayes

These composers were born in the generation immediately following the American Civil War, which ended in 1865. They were often the children of ex-slaves or they otherwise were exposed to the Negro Spiritual directly from the living sources of these songs.

Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949)

“Deep River”
Harry T. Burleigh, composer
Robert McFerrin, baritone
Deep River and Other Classic Negro Spirituals


William Arms Fisher (1861-1948)

William Arms Fisher, composer
Roland Hayes, tenor
Good News: Vintage Negro Spirituals


John C. Payne (1872-1952)

“Standin’ in de Need o’ Prayer”
John C. Payne, composer
John C. Payne, baritone; Lawrence Brown, tenor
Black Europe: Sounds & Images of Black People in Europe Pre-1927


John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954)

“All God’s Chillin”
J. Rosamond Johnson, composer
Todd Duncan, baritone
Todd Duncan Sings Spirituals


Clarence Cameron White (1879-1960)

“Goin’ to Shout All over God’s Heaven”
Clarence Cameron White, composer
Jules Bledsoe, baritone
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?


Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943)

“I’m Goin’ To Tell God”
R. Nathaniel Dett, composer
Dorothy Maynor, soprano
Dorothy Maynor in Concert at Library of Congress


Florence B. Price (1887-1953)

“Go Down Moses”
Florence Price, composer
Richard Heard, tenor
My Dream: Art Songs and Spirituals


Roland Hayes (1887-1977)

“Hear de Lambs a-Cryin'” from The Life of Christ
Roland Hayes, composer
Charles Holland, tenor
My Lord What a Mornin’


Francis Hall Johnson (1888-1970)

Hall Johnson, composer
Inez Matthews, mezzo-soprano
Inez Matthews Sings Spirituals


The Pioneers | The Second Generation | The Now Generation | Discography