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Annotated Index of Commercial Spirituals, 1870–1887

This index is a companion to my book in preparation, The Popularization of Negro Spirituals (University of Illinois Press), which traces the routes by which spirituals were disseminated in popular culture after the Civil War until the turn of the century, including jubilee groups, sheet music and anthologies, the stage (musical plays, minstrel shows, variety), folklore, and religion.

Commercial spirituals (sometimes called pseudo-spirituals, minstrel spirituals, or imitation spirituals) played a role in this process. Modeled on African American spirituals and performed primarily by minstrel and variety performers, they were meant as comic parodies, although a few seem to have been attempts at earnest spirituals. Both white composers (e.g., Charles Connolly, Will S. Hays, Monroe Rosenfled, Ned Straight, Thomas Westendorf) and black composers (e.g., James Bland, Pete Devonear, Sam Lucas, Jacob Sawyer, George Scott) wrote them.

The genre crystallized in the years 1873–75 (shortly after the Fisk Jubilee Singers introduced arranged spirituals to the concert stage in late 1871) and remained in vogue until the mid-1880s, although examples can found in the 1890s and into the 20th century. In spite of stylistic variety, the songs indexed here share the following: They were written for personal financial profit and (in most cases) were attributed to a composer or performer; the lyrics reference traditional spirituals through iconic words and phrases (e.g., “Gabriel’s trumpet,” “gospel ship/raft/train”); and the majority bear a superficial stylistic resemblance to folk spirituals, most commonly manifested in internal refrains, call and response, gapped-scale melodies, and a pastiche lyrics.

The index is arranged alphabetically by composer's last name, with unattributed songs listed by title. Composers are identified as black or white when known. The annotations identify the folk characteristics of each song, relationships between songs and composers (e.g., parodies, answer songs), and sources (including historical recordings). If online scores are unavailable I provide lyrics.

Because arrangements of traditional spirituals were not commonly published in sheet music editions in the 19th century, I’ve included them in this index (see under Traditional Spirituals) even though they don't belong to the commercial spirituals category.

My book will offer historical context and interpretation of these songs. This index is offered merely in the spirit of data sharing. I would appreciate receiving corrections, additions, or comments!


HTC  Harvard Theatre Collection

LC     Library of Congress

NYPL New York Public Library

UIUC   University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Sandra Jean Graham
Subpages (6): A–B C–D E–H I–K L–N R–Z