The Art of the Spiritual - Part II

Steve and I had great fun planning a presenting a short lecture recital on traditional African-American spirituals a few weeks ago.  Here is a video clip and a little bit of history on the second piece on our program, “Deep River.”  Enjoy!

This lyrical piece symbolizes life after death and freedom for the Israelites in the Promised Land (see above).  A glimpse of a free life, this song may also have symbolized the slaves’ crossing of the Ohio River into the free states (Kimball, 2006).  The text reads:

Chorus: Deep river, my home is over Jordan, Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into campground.

Bridge: Oh don’t you want to go To that gospel feast, That promis’d land Where all is peace?

Tag: Oh deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into campground.

The use of the word “campground” in the chorus is not a biblical reference; rather, it refers to a place where a religious “camp meeting” was held.  During the 19th century in the south, a campground consisted of a series of “tents” or cabins where people could cook and sleep and a centrally-located meeting house where worship took place.  The inclusion of this term in “Deep River” could signify the desire to worship freely.  In addition, the word “peace” is left unresolved as it leads into the tag ending – a symbol of unrest and a sense of a greater reality.

-- Resources: Kimball, C. (2006). Song: a guide to art song style and literature. Hal Leonard Corporation.