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Black History Month: The enduring power of music and the people who create it

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As people from Africa were kidnapped and brought to the United States where they were forced to work as slaves, these communities of African-Americans developed a variety of ways to thrive despite the harsh nature of their lives.  

One of their most recognized resources was music.

The most popular form of music they relied on came to be known as Negro Spirituals, and these songs of pain and survival, tinged with expressions of faith, have inspired millions from 1619 until today.

Clarence Jones, the founder of a choral organization called Heritage spoke with WBRZ's Brandi B. Harris about the importance of this music, saying,

"They were not written down, first of all. Therefore things change. But the basic melody, the basic message was the same." 

Heritage, founded in 1976, works to preserve Negro Spirituals and the information concealed in the lyrics. 

"The Negro spirituals, this is the music of our forefathers, the slaves," Jones said.

During the American Slave Trade enslaved Africans were stripped of their culture and in an effort to define themselves they made music with one of the only tools they had, their voices. 

"Not only did they express themselves with the music, this was part of their religious practices," Jones said. "This was also their way of communicating one to the other. Sometimes there were hidden codes in the spirituals."   

The spirituals were often powerful melodies with strong vocals that highlighted the pain of slavery, and over the years, though the arrangements have changed, the soul of the music remains the same. 

Heritage travels the world performing these moving arrangements, and they've even had the chance to play at the Vatican. 

When asked why it's important for this music to survive, Jones replied, "Is it important for you to learn American History? Of course it is.  It needs to be kept alive and it is as important as anybody else's history." 



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