Maryland Spirituals Initiative Ensemble

African American spirituals Eastern Shore of Maryland
Photo Credit: courtesy of The Water's Edge Museum, Oxford, MD

The birthplace of both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, Maryland’s Eastern Shore occupies a unique place in the African American struggle for freedom. The rich, deeply moving African American spirituals tradition was also central to that search. These histories are celebrated and brought back to life through a recent exhibit and musical collaboration organized by the Water’s Edge Museum in Oxford, Maryland—the uplifting and inspiring Maryland Spirituals Initiative.

African American spirituals emerged in the American South, where enslaved Africans combined English hymns with West African rhythms and vocal traditions to create a musical form that expressed both Christian devotion and the desire for freedom. Referred to as “America’s finest art form,” spirituals provided the soundtrack of daily life on plantations as well as veiled messages about escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

Curated by the Water’s Edge Museum Creative Director Kentavius Jones, the Maryland Spirituals Initiative is a multidisciplinary project that combines an exhibition of visual art interpreting spirituals, written accounts, and oral histories with a selection of celebrated standards like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” among many others. Recreated and recorded by the Initiative, these renditions invoke the legacies of figures like Harriet Tubman, whose exploits in Maryland are legion. The songs were arranged by Jones, La Fleur Paysour, and Professor John Wesley Wright of Salisbury University (SU), and performed and recorded by an intergenerational choir featuring members of Eastern Shore AME and Baptist churches.

At this year’s festival, the ensemble brings together an intergenerational choir consisting of members from several Eastern Shore congregations of varied denominations—Church of the Nazarene, United Methodist, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, and independent/non-denominational—as well SU alumna Annabell Midley and Initiative director Ree Joseph. Under the direction of Professor Wright, fellow SU Professor Danielle Cumming, and Faye Wilson of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church (Quantico, Md.), the Maryland Spirituals Initiative Ensemble will present a selection of spirituals that are a part of the historical and cultural fabric of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Additional Information:

“Maryland Spirituals Initiative Promotes Healing”

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