One of the blessings of Christmas is the wonderful music associated with this festive season. While the carols and songs from the past as well as contemporary songs of celebration are enjoyable, some of the spirituals associated with Christmas are especially appreciated. As a form of African American folk music born out of the soul of slavery, the spiritual became what Lovell described as “the foundation stone of black song and black poetry.” Similar to the listing of Top 10 + 1 Songs of Thanksgiving, here is a list of the Top 10 Christmas Spirituals.
Today the spiritual is widely recognized and appreciated all over the world. One of the early performers of this distinct musical form was the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a group of young emancipated college students who toured the country and eventually traveled abroad, singing spirituals in concerts which were fund raising efforts to save Fisk University, an historically black institution in Nashville, from being closed. The treasurer at Fisk at that time was George L. White, who organized the nine-member chorus of students and arranged their tour, beginning in small towns, some of which were not receptive.
Most amazingly, there is a local connection with the singers from Tennessee who traveled to Cincinnati and on to Columbus in their first itinerary in1871. After a concert performed in Cincinnati, the group donated their small $50 profit to the victims of the notorious 1871 fire in Chicago, Illinois. The group then traveled on to Columbus, being tired and discouraged. According to Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion, during an all-night prayer vigil, White, instead of sleeping, prayed for guidance. In the morning he announced the new name for the group, “Jubilee Singers.” The name is taken from the Bible, chapter twenty-five of Leviticus, which told of the Jewish Year of Jubilee which took place every fifty years and was celebrated with debt relief and the emancipation of slaves. The group expanded their repertoire to include spirituals and other songs.
From this list of Top 10 Christmas Spirituals, we find that many of them were, no doubt, popularized by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. To learn more about the history of each song and to see its lyrics, click on the title, where you will also find a music video of each of my Top Ten Christmas Spirituals.
1) Go Tell It on the Mountain
2) Round the Glory Manger
3) What Month Was Jesus Born In
4) Rise up Shepherd and Follow
5) Sweet Little Jesus Boy
6) Mary’s Boy Child
7) Children, Go Where I Send Thee
8) I Wonder as I Wander
9) Wasn’t That a Mighty day?
In the accompanying video, Fisk University Jubilee choir director, Dr. Paul Kwami explains the origin of his attraction to Negro spirituals and the dual role of the music for slaves who first invented it.