Black History Month: Our Musical Roots

Music Sheet


2015 marks the centennial for The Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, the official founding organization of Black History Month! This year’s theme is very fitting: A Century of Black Life, History and Culture. During this month of national commemoration, The Hermitage will host four weekly programs centered on exploring the progress, triumphs, and challenges in highlighting African-American history over the past century. Each of these programs are FREE and open to the public!
We have invited 4 of our participants to be a guest blogger each week and share their passion for this history! We have Dr. Naima Johnston Bush highlighting her program from this past Saturday, “Spiritual Songs: History of the Negro Spiritual.”

  “My first love is to craft a song, marry music and lyrics to tell a story, to express the light and darkness of life. But every now and then, my imagination is captured by the turn of events that birth a different type of offering to the world. I don’t define myself as a storyteller, rather as a creative communicator who uses the tools available to convey the episodes in our history that should never be forgotten. My program, Spiritual Songs, A Musical Lecture on the History of the Negro Spiritual is such an offering.
Several years ago I was given a book by my brother on the history of the Negro Spiritual with an accompanying CD. Songs I had sung all my life became deeply meaningful as I discovered my musical heritage between the pages. I came to understand the struggle and pain of slavery in a way I never had before. Most importantly I came to understand that in the midst of the pain of a people I was descended from, hope came embodied in melody and newfound faith.
Circumstantial turnings can collide to push something beautiful into the present from a shameful past. I found myself reading more books about slavery and the Negro Spiritual. Watching videos and lingering on public television channels to see documentaries that enlightened me with tantalizing tales of the Underground Railroad, forest escape routes, and messages hidden in quilts and songs. As the voices of the past came to me, I found myself so engulfed in the music and stories of my ancestors that I felt compelled to do something with all I had learned so that these voices that had been quiet for so long would finally sing again.
An educator by training, it only made sense that I pull these bits of history together and give it as a gift to a world that quickly forgets due to constant inundation of information and the next disaster. The story of slavery and the music that it produced is filled with pain, but in the midst of this tapestry of horror are the weavings of hope, faith, love and survival. African Americans are a people who survive. These songs, these stories, through the retelling, become bound to our souls and passed to the next generation, to carry on a legacy after my voice has been silenced and entered into eternity.”


Dr. Naima Johnston Bush