American Spiritual Ensemble

Dr. Everett McCorvey is the founder and music director of the American Spiritual Ensemble.

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It is my profound honor to share this music of my ancestors and my heart with the world. Early in my professional career, I saw a chance to create a new vocal group to honor the American Negro spiritual, because I found that many people didn’t know the difference between spirituals and gospel music. The short answer is this: spirituals date back to slavery, while gospel music came about in the 1930s and ‘40s.

The American Negro spiritual is the mother music. It gave birth to jazz, blues, gospel and pop. The spiritual was born here in America, during the most difficult time in our history, and helped America find its voice. Even as our country was being formed, slaves were not allowed to bring over their own music or speak their own language, and in many cases they were separated from their families. They had to learn a new way of communication. The melodies they sang—in the cotton fields, in their homes and at camp meetings—became the American slaves’ musical expression. Some of these songs date back to the 1500s.

As single melodies performed a cappella or harmonized in different ways with accompaniment, from hauntingly beautiful and poignant melodies to up-tempo songs of praise and glory, the American Negro spiritual is an important part of Americana that helped shape and define our musical identity in the United States. Performers and audiences alike know this music is as relevant today as it was during the Civil War. We all feel this music deeply and viscerally, from our toes to our hearts, from memory to marrow.

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