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Music 493: Spirituals

Recommended Starting Points

Subject Encyclopedias are scholarly works written by experts on a variety of topics. The articles are typically longer and more detailed than general encyclopedias. The background information provides a good starting point as you begin the research process. Here are some of the ways a subject encyclopedia can help guide you:

  • Understand the scope of the topic
  • Suggest ideas for narrowing the topic
  • Identify key concepts, terms, dates,and names
  • List subject areas related to the topic
  • Recommend sources for further exploration

Music Subject Encyclopedias & Reference Sources


Other Reference Resources

Using Primo

Use Primo to find books and other materials on your topic. For example, for research on Hall Johnson, you could type "Hall Johnson" into the search box to find a biography of Hall Johnson as well as scores, collections of songs, and articles from periodicals.

Useful Websites

Other sources of background information might be websites devoted to the topic of spirituals. Three such websites are listed below:


  • Spirituals Database  The Spirituals Database offers searchable access to recorded track information for concert Negro Spiritual settings performed by solo Classical vocalists. The resource contains a selection from a century of historic and contemporary concert spiritual recordings produced on compact discs, long-playing (33 1/3 rpm) albums, 78 rpm records, 45 rpm discs, audio cassettes and streamed audio files, as well as demonstration recordings from musical score collections. The site also features an essay, "The Negro Spiritual: From Cotton Field to Concert Hall" which is an excerpt from The Gospel Truth about the Negro Spiritual, a lecture by Randye Jones. Also useful is the page of Related Resources containing citations for reference resources, journals, score collections, online resources, and other sources of information.


  • WPA Federal Writers' Project Materials on African American Life, South Carolina: Spirituals: One of the resources listed on the Spirituals Database Related Resources page is the WPA Federal Writers' Project Materials on African American Life, South Carolina:  Spirituals, which are digitized materials collected by the WPA's Federal Writer's Project in South Carolina. One of the first interesting pieces in the collection is a report by C.S. Murray, the District Supervisor, on what constituted real Negro spirituals. He recounts the efforts of Mrs. Maxfield Parrish to collect real Negro spirituals and not just gospel songs translated into dialect. 


  • Spirituals Project:  The Sprituals Project was founded by DU faculty member Arthur C. Jones to preserve and revitalize the music and teachings of the sacred folk songs called “spirituals,” created and first sung by African Americans in slavery. Of particular interest is the archived version of the project called Sweet Chariot:  the story of the spirituals which features historical information on spirituals and presents arguments on both sides of the issue of authenticity in spirituals.