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Negro Spirituals

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Swing Low Sweet Chariot--The Plantation Singers

The tunes and the beats, before 1865

The tunes and the beats of negro spirituals and Gospel songs are highly influenced by the music of their actual cultural environment. It means that their styles are continuously changing.

The very first negro spirituals were inspired by African music even if the tunes were not far from those of hymns. Some of them, which were called “shouts” were accompanied with typical dancing including hand clapping and foot tapping.

After regular a worship service, congregations used to stay for a “ring shout”. It was a survival of primitive African dance. So, educated ministers and members placed a ban on it. The men and women arranged themselves in a ring. The music started, perhaps with a Spiritual, and the ring began to move, at first slowly, then with quickening pace. The same musical phrase was repeated over and over for hours. This produced an ecstatic state. Women screamed and fell. Men, exhausted, dropped out of the ring

Some African American religious singing at this time was referred as a “moan” (or a “groan”). Moaning (or groaning) does not imply pain. It is a kind of blissful rendition of a song, often mixed with humming and spontaneous melodic variation.


Author--Gary Paulsen

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Length--92 pages
Genre--Historical Fiction

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  1. Plot graph as read
  2. Journal entries--voice, perspective, empathy (Sarny, Nightjohn, Mammy, slave, master)
  3. What would you sacrifice? (real or fiction)
  4. Poem with emotions (book generated)
  5. Research--underground railroad, slave owner, slavery, Civil War, causes, origins of slavery, plantations, crops, middle passage
  6. Letter to Gary Paulsen:
                Gary Paulsen
                c/o Children's Publicity 
                1745 Broadway 
                New York, NY  10019

Hx Fiction
    Exposition (setting, characters, conflict)
        Sarny Nightjohn, Old Waller, Delie, Mammy
    rising action
    falling action
point of view
colloquial/dialect--ain't, I be dumb, Call them dog droppings or horse crap; The dogs be mean 46, 
context (figure out the words pg 28 sassafras--don't have to know everything to understand "calabash gourd" pg 29)
see below
Vocabulary--breeders, quarters, corn-shuck pallets, addled 42, cower 53, gaggle 55, extremity 74, 

What people are willing to sacrifice to be able to read/write
superstition--beliefs, anthropology, tradition, culture, diversity
symbol--"what does it mean? pg 38
simile/metaphor--"Made me think of thunder long ways off, moving in a summer sky (metaphorical)." pg 39
myth p 50
identity--culture, heritage, name--last name of master, derogatory labels--

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crackers 57 (WOP, N, redneck, WASP, chink, etc.)

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cartoon about the civil War

Subpages (1): Negro Spirituals