Negro Spirituals

Celebrating Negro Spirituals

In June 2022, Trinity Presbyterian Church started a year long initiative celebrating the unique art form of the negro spiritual. We are acknowledging the power and beauty of the anonymous spirituals we use during worship, learning about their origin and structure, and gathering funds to “pay royalties” for our use of these pieces during worship, just as we do with pieces that have known composers and arrangers. Trinity will gather and distribute funds to local organizations that are dedicated to keeping the tradition of spirituals alive.

As a part of our year long initiative to celebrate and learn about the art form and liturgical use of the negro spiritual, we will share links to articles and videos of interest.

Upcoming Events

Mark your calendars for a special adult (and family) educational session in our sanctuary and livestreamed on Sunday afternoon, November 20th, from 4:30-6pm, where internationally renowned composer, arranger, conductor and educator Dr. Robert A. Harris will speak. Harris, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music (Evanston, IL), served as Director of Choral Organizations and Professor of Conducting at the Northwestern from 1977 to 2012, is the composer and arranger of over 40 works, and remains in demand as an educator, composer, and conductor ( In an interactive presentation, he will share his knowledge of spirituals with our congregation, the Presbytery, and the larger community as a part of Trinity’s yearlong focus on negro spirituals.

Bob Harris will make his way to Trinity from Chicago on November 20 to share his knowledge on the history and performance of spirituals with us and the larger community at his adult education session in the sanctuary (and live streamed on Trinity's Facebook page) on Sunday, November 20th, from 4:30-6pm. The Mission and Ministry Committee invites you to mark your calendars for this interactive session with a master educator, conductor and composer.   View his biography below in the resources section.

DATE: Sunday, November 20. 2022
TIME: 4:30-6:00pm
ADDRESS: Trinity Presbyterian Church, 6800 Washington Ave, St. Louis, MO 63130
FACEBOOK: Livestream the event in real time by visiting our Facebook page at


From The Book of American Negro Poetry, (ed. by James Weldon Johnson, pub.1922), comes poet Johnson's moving ode to the anonymous enslaved writers and singers of negro spirituals. Johnson, a poet and novelist best known for his "Lift Every Voice and Sing" lyrics, writes here of the beautiful melodies and powerful lyrics created under the most dire circumstances of slavery. He acknowledges how these songs helped their singers and listeners live through an inhumane existence and connect their "hungry hearts" with a God of mercy, hope, and freedom.

O Black and Unknown Bards
James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

O black and unknown bards of long ago,
How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
How, in your darkness, did you come to know
The power and beauty of the minstrel's lyre?
Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?

Heart of what slave poured out such melody
As "Steal away to Jesus"? On its strains
His spirit must have nightly floated free,
Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
Who heard great "Jordan roll"? Whose starward eye
Saw chariot "swing low"? And who was he
That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
"Nobody knows de trouble I see"?

What merely living clod, what captive thing,
Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,
And find within its deadened heart to sing
These songs of sorrow, love and faith, and hope?
How did it catch that subtle undertone,
That note in music heard not with the ears?
How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,
Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears.

Not that great German master in his dream
Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars
At the creation, ever heard a theme
Nobler than "Go down, Moses." Mark its bars
How like a mighty trumpet-call they stir
The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung
Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were
That helped make history when Time was young.

There is a wide, wide wonder in it all,
That from degraded rest and servile toil
The fiery spirit of the seer should call
These simple children of the sun and soil.
O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
You—you alone, of all the long, long line
Of those who've sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.

You sang not deeds of heroes or of kings;
No chant of bloody war, no exulting pean
Of arms-won triumphs; but your humble strings
You touched in chord with music empyrean.
You sang far better than you knew; the songs
That for your listeners' hungry hearts sufficed
Still live,—but more than this to you belongs:
You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.

Celebrating diversity, working for justice, living with joy!

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