Antebellum America, 1784-1865

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  • Andrew Law
  • Charles Wesley
  • Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield
  • Frank Johnson
  • Harry T. Burleigh
  • Jas. W. Acuff
  • John Ferguson
  • J. Rosamond Johnson
  • Lucy Mc Kim Garrison
  • Newport Gardner
  • Richard Allen


1808: Allen publishes new edition of 1801 Hymnal
1827: St. Phillips Episcopal Church is first to operate singing school in New York
1853: Greenfield is nation's first black concert singer
1867: "Slave Songs of United States" is  first published collection of slave songs

Updated November 12, 2001
© Mark Canada, 2001

Black Music

By Annette Johnson
Student, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Music during the antebellum era was an important factor in life.  One type of music that seems to go unnoticed is black music.  What is black music?  It was often stated that black music is based upon poverty and injustice.  Most of the music did refer to what the black community was enduring, which was pain and suffering. But black music expresses not only negative aspects of life, but also many optimistic views.  Black music has many different types of forms, such as black folk songs, hymns, inspirational music, and spirituals. 

Mancel Warrick defines folk music as the traditional music of a people, race, or nation. Warrick also states that folk tunes are often in a continual process of change (8).  That is, each ethnic background  influences the way that music is presented.  Ethnicity has contributed a great deal, giving each folk song a different flavor and and a different sound. Tunes such as "The Carolina Low Country," written by Newman White, and "Poor Rosy Poor Gal," written by Miss Lucy Mc Kim, are some of the popular tunes that were played during the antebellum years. 

Another type of black music is the spiritual.  Spirituals are sorrow songs from slaves who walked through the path of darkness and the shadow of death.  It is an emotional type of music that expresses the experiences of the black community. Songs such as "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," arranged by H.T. Burleigh, and "Swing Low, Chariot" are examples of spirituals.  Hymns and inspirational msuci can fit within the same spiritual category, but they do have their differences.  Hymns are songs of praises to God.  This type of music was used mainly within church.  It was also used to give black soldiers the mentality of being secure from all harm when they were fighting in the war.  "Wade in the Water" and "Jesus , Lover of My Soul," written by Charles Wesley, are two of the songs that are commonly sung in church today.  On the other hand, inspirational songs motivate people to try to make life better for themselves.  Songs such as "Just Over in the Glory-Land," written by Jas. W. Acuff, and "Go Down, Moses" help to uplift heavy spirits into hopes, dreams, and aspirations to live another day and to fight for what is right. 

Black music has paved the way for black people to come together and allowed others in different cultures to try to understand cultural differences. Black music is the root to all present and future music that is composed today, and it will always be remembered. 


Warrick, Mancel, and Joan Hillman.  The Progress of Gospel Music. New York, N.Y.:
Vantage Press, 1977.
This book is a secondary source that gives many definitions on what types of black music were present in the early years and why they were used, giving examples of songs.
Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans. 2nd edition. New York, N.Y.:  W. W. Norton & Company, 1983.
This was a secondary source that refers to black American music from different eras.  Southern mentions many famous performers and the popular songs  in each decade.  Southern has edited many other books, written essays, and compiled other works.  She has also written many books, such as Readings in Black American Music, The Buxheim Organ Book, Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Music, and The Music of Black Americans 1971,1983,1997.
Epstein, Dena. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals. Chicago, I.L.: University of Illinois Press, 1977.
This secondary source explains the types of tunes that were developed and used during the antebellum era and Civil War.