The term "spiritual" is derived from spiritual song. The King James Bible's translation of Ephesians 5:19 is: "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." The term spiritual song was often used in the black and white Christian community through the 19th century (and indeed much earlier), and spiritual was used as a noun to mean, according to the context, spiritual person or spiritual thing, but not specifically with regard to song. Negro spiritual first appears in print in the 1860s, where slaves are described as using spirituals for religious songs sung sitting or standing in place, and spiritual shouts for more dance-like music.
Musicologist George Pullen Jackson extended the term spiritual to a wider range of folk hymnody, as in his 1938 book White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands, but this does not appear to have been widespread usage previously. The term though has often been broadened to include subsequent arrangements into more standard European-American hymnodic styles, and to include post-emancipation songs with stylistic similarities to the original Negro spirituals.
Although numerous rhythmical and sonic elements of Negro spirituals can be traced to African sources, Negro spirituals are a musical form that is indigenous and specific to the religious experience in the United States of Africans and their descendants. They are a result of the interaction of music and religion from Africa with music and religion of European origin. Further, this interaction occurred only in the United States. Africans who converted to Christianity in other parts of the world, even in the Caribbean and Latin America, did not evolve this form.
The Wings Over Jordan Choir
The Wings Over Jordan Choir, a prominent African American choir during the late 1930s and early 1940s, made broadcast history with the first independently produced national and international radio programs created by African Americans. The group made contributions to choral music and the improvement of race relations. The choir was founded in 1935 by the Rev. Glenn T. Settle, pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church on E. 30th and Scovill Ave. in Cleveland, Ohio. Rev. Settle believed in using Negro spirituals to spread Christianity. He promoted establishing a radio program to address the Negro community and introduce the non-Negro to the Negro experience. In 1937, the ensemble performed weekly on the "Negro Hour" over radio station WGAR, a CBS affiliate. It soon became a hit.
On 9 Jan. 1938 the group adopted the name Wings Over Jordan Choir (or WOJC) and national broadcasting began. The choir performed a decade long series of weekly, sometimes daily, programs for CBS and WGAR exclusively. WOJC was the first full-time professional black choir in America. At its height, the choir performed before sold-out, non-segregated audiences in over 40 states, 5 European countries, Canada, and Mexico. During World War II, under USO sponsorship, WOJC toured Army camps in Europe. WOJC's fame resulted in the publication of a songbook and record album, a movie contract, performances with major symphony orchestras, and an invitation to sing at the White House. The choir received numerous honors, including radio's prestigious Peabody Award.