African American Spirituals in Academic Settings: Unearthing Who Benefits from These Performances, how they Came About, and Why this Matter Today

Date of Award


Degree Name



African American Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Grace Livingston


This body of work is discussing who benefits from the performance of African American Spirituals in modern academic settings that are predominantly white. In order to discuss this topic, we first need know the history of African American Spirituals through their creation. Understanding this will help set the stage for the cultural importance of Spirituals in African American communities, which allows for the conversation surrounding the subsequent popularization and reaction from the audience in response to these Spirituals being performed. Part of this second section highlights the fact that the popularization of Spirituals was because of academic spaces, which in turn also shows us that the audience has been majority white through these specific performances. After placing the historical importance for the composition of the Spirituals we will shift towards looking at the modern implications of performing these pieces. Within this specific section there are four important things to hone in on: 1) How the Spirituals are being prepared in the academic space, 2) How performers and audience members are reacting to the Spirituals, 3) What it means to perform African American Spirituals in a predominantly white space and institution, and 4) Who benefits from the performance in both a monetary and social manner. Part of this modern context will be provided by my own white female experiences throughout my 14 years of choral life, as well as from data supplied by a survey asking academic choral performers to reflect on their past engagement with Spirituals, and other published narratives reflecting on the preparation and performance of these pieces. Each of these components supply an important element related to the modern performance of African American Spirituals in academic spaces as a way to better understand who benefits from the performance nowadays and why it matters.


University of Puget Sound


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