CSO Spiritual Ensemble

About the African-American Spiritual

In July 1999, the General Assembly of South Carolina proclaimed the spiritual the official music of the state. The term spiritual is derived from spiritual song. The King James Bible translation of the term refers to it as “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Spirituals were created out of the suffering and survival, pain and celebration, history, ingenuity and faith of Africans held in bondage on the Sea Islands, people whose spirituals became a major force in the building of this country.

Negro spirituals (now termed African-American spirituals) may also have served as socio-political protests veiled as assimilation to the white American culture, religious songs sung sitting or standing in place, or shouted for more dance-like music.



Although many elements of the spiritual can be traced to Africa, spirituals are truly a musical form indigenous to the religious experience of Africans transported as slaves from Africa to America combined with the American musical and religious experiences brought from Europe. This interaction of the cultures occurred only in the United States. Interestingly, Africans who converted to Christianity in other parts of the world did not evolve the musical form called the spiritual.