South Georgians will have the opportunity to better understand and appreciate the African-American spiritual this week as the American Spiritual Ensemble takes the stage of Valdosta State University’s Whitehead Auditorium.
“Music was the central part of the enslaved Africans’ lives. They sang when they were sick, well, happy or sad. Brought to America and stripped of everything — wife, husband, children, language — they were left with the song,” says Shirley H. Hardin, director of VSU African-American Studies and an English professor, explaining the Spiritual based on a conversation with Dr. Everett McCorvey, American Spiritual Ensemble’s founder and musical director.
“Ricky Little, assistant conductor of the ASE, claims that ‘having heard Christian music, the enslaved African was impressed by the message of love, hope, happiness, freedom, forgiveness and judgment.’
“An American art form, the Negro spirituals are songs that came from the heart through the religion of Christianity,” Hardin says.
“The mission of the American Spiritual Ensemble is to keep the American Negro spiritual alive,” according to the group. “The repertoire ranges from
spirituals to classical to Broadway and dance.”
McCorvey grew up in Montgomery, Ala., where he noticed the slow loss of the Spiritual. To keep this musical form vital and vibrant, he created an ensemble featuring professional opera singers. The American Spiritual Ensemble has toured throughout the United States, England, Italy, Germany, Scotland, Spain and Japan.
Hardin credits Dr. Connie L. Richards, College of Arts and Sciences dean, for attracting the ensemble to VSU. Richards saw the ensemble twice in concert, and she encouraged the African-American Studies program to schedule the group for a Valdosta visit.
In addition to the concert Wednesday, McCorvey will conduct a master class with Dr. Paul Neal, director of VSU choral studies and the VSU Chamber Singers. The concert includes two opening songs from the VSU Chamber Singers: “John Saw Duh Numbuh” and “I Can Tell the World.”
The American Spiritual Ensemble presents a concert that delves deep into the African-American experience but also salutes more recent Broadway songs. The audience can expect songs such as “Walk Together Children,” “Steal Away,” “I Wanna Be Ready,” “Ezekiel Saw de Wheel,” “I Know I Got Religion,” “Sit Down, Servant, Sit Down,” “Lift Every Voice and Sing (Negro National Anthem),” “God’s Trombones” (Poems by James Weldon Johnson; poems based on sermons and music based on Spirituals), “Circle of Life” (from “The Lion King”), “Ol’ Man River,” etc.
Hardin says “their soul-stirring performance will help kick off the university’s observance of African-American History Month.”
VSU African-American Studies and VSU Music present the American Spiritual Ensemble.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6.
Where: Whitehead Auditorium, VSU Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood.
Admission: Free and open to the public.
More information: Contact Dr. Shirley H. Hardin, (229) 249-4843.