Saturday, March 01, 2014

Negro Spirituals Come Full Circle

The Negro spiritual has come full circle and is making a comeback. Jazz Saxophonist Tyrone Burkett has stylized a new classification of music called Postmodern Spirituals. Defined as "freedom music for the 21st century," it is the blending across time and space jazz, and soul with traditional and contemporary gospel to produce a modern-day version of the nineteenth century Negro spiritual. The St. Albans Congregational Church, Jamaica, New York hosted a non-traditional Easter service on Saturday, April 7, 2012, the day before Easter featuring postmodern spiritual music. Saturday nights are typically when most 21st century churches, particularly those with multiple weekend worship services, hold non-traditional services. The following event description was posted on The St. Albans Facebook page:
CELEBRATE EASTER WITHOUT THE FANCY CLOTHES! Come and be inspired by this very special Jazz Vespers Communion Service. On the day before Easter, this non-traditional worship experience will bring together music and message in celebration of the risen Savior. Postmodern Spirituals: New Freedom Songs. The postmodern spiritual is the re-imagined Negro spiritual as transformed through the lenses of jazz, gospel, and soul music that proceeded from those early songs of freedom. This music tells the story of the use of jazz language, harmonic sophistication, and improvisation that is juxtaposed with simple folk themes as melodies. Like the Negro spirituals, it has lyrically vivid imagery that is performed with the fervor of gospel and the smoothness of soul music. (

Burkett grew up in New York studying John Coltrane, and Grover Washington Jr., while serving as a musician in the holiness church. About his new art form, Burkett states,
Coming up I was equally influenced by jazz and gospel during the same period of my life, remarked Tyrone. "No one was writing anything from that place, so I decided to try it myself. I had heard gospel influences in the jazz of Horace Silver, Charles Mingus and others. And I could hear the essence of the Negro spiritual prominently in John Coltrane’s music. So I took what was organic and natural to me – Coltrane, jazz fusion, 70s soul music traditional & contemporary gospel, spirituals and had them all converge naturally, without forcing the issue.
Another example of postmodern spirituals is the 2006 book and CD entitled My Soul Is A Witness, The Message of the Spirituals in Word and Song by Marsha Hansen, the sister-in-law of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
Marsha Hansen is a concert vocalist and inspirational speaker. She teaches and sings African American sacred music for audiences in church settings throughout the country. She has served as a U.S. Naval Officer ad holds degrees in theology and human relations. On the music recording that accompanies this book, she has teamed with numerous family and friends, including her daughter, Jordan Hansen, and brother-in-law Keith Richards, who appears courtesy of Virgin Records. Also on the album are Blondie Chaplin of the Beech Boys and Rolling Stones, and George Receli, drummer for Bob Dylan. My Soul is a Witness is written by a Christian perspective and great insight into the historical and theological underpinnings of African American spirituals.
Songs on the recording include:
This Little Light of Mine, Been in the Storm So Long, Hush, Hush, Stan' Still Jordan, I want Jesus to Walk with Me, Rock in Jerusalem, I Got a Robe, et s Break Bread Together, My Soul is a Witness, Oh, Peter, Go Ring Dem Bells, Sweet Little Jesus Boy, Were You There, De Gospel Train, and I Believe This is Jesus.


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