One hot night, I was sitting cross-legged on the bed, cross-stitching a sampler by lamplight. The window was open. Some classical music was playing softly on the radio...
It was an ordinary moment -- and then, quite suddenly, it was an extra-ordinary moment. Over the radio came a recording of an African American choir singing a spiritual a cappella. It was "Ezekial Saw the Wheel". Even now, seventeen years later, the experience of hearing this song for the first time is still vivid in my mind.
How can I describe it? Haunting. Soul-stirring. Deep. (Who can say what it means?)
I jumped out of that big springy bed and turned up the volume, then stood transfixed until the last bit of harmony faded to silence.
I made a mental note to purchase the CD, but I never did.
Until a few weeks ago.
As I was preparing to start Uncle Tom's Cabin, I was thinking about how moving African American choral music is and how I wish I could find that one song that made the hair stand on the back of my neck so long ago.
I found it!!!
Not only does this disc have my beloved "Ezekiel Saw The Wheel" it's loaded with other spiritual gems:
|From inside the Smithsonian Folkways cover: "African Americans moved out of slavery into freedom with the story of their journey wrapped in the songs they sang."|
What are these songs, and what do they mean? I know little of music and can say nothing in technical phrase, but I know something of men, and knowing them, I know that these songs are the articulate message of the slave to the world. ~ W.E.B. DuBoisI did not, when a slave, fully understand the deep meaning of those crude and apparently incoherent songs. I was, myself, within the circle, so that I could then neither hear nor see as those without might see and hear. They breathe the prayer and complaint of souls overflowing with bitterest anguish. ~ Fredrick Douglass
Some of the songs on the recording such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" and "Deep River" are very familiar. Others are not so well known, but every bit as moving. "Listen to the Lambs" and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" are down right heart-wrenching. Several others, such as "There is a Balm in Gilead", "Everytime I Feel the Spirit", and -- one of my new favorites -- "Ain't Got Time to Die", send an upbeat, encouraging message. "Steal Away" and "Wade in the Water" are songs which had double meanings for fugitives headed for freedom on the Underground Railroad.The yearning for freedom is present in every song on the disc, but especially pronounced in "Oh Freedom".
|Ride for Liberty -- The Fugitive Slaves, by Eastman Johnson|
After a while the singing commenced, to the evident delight of all present...as they sung, some laughed, and some cried, and some clapped hands, or shook hands rejoicingly with each other, as if they had fairly gained the other side of the river. ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin