Friends of Negro Spirituals

Negro spirituals

Friends of Negro Spirituals is an Oakland-based nonprofit organization created to preserve, celebrate, and to improve through education the public’s awareness and understanding of the body of Negro Spirituals and its history; to study the origins, meanings, and historical values of the folk song; to develop and to disseminate educational publications and to offer public forums, radio programs, and workshops; and to educate the public about composers, writers, and other contributors to the preservation of the historic song and about the unknown Black slaves who created them.  Friends of Negro Spirituals was founded in 1998 by Sam Edwards and Lyvonne Chrisman.

Says co-founder Sam Edwards, ““Lyvonne and I recognized the great absence of efforts to preserve Negro spirituals in the culture of local communities.  The goal was and always has been to educate the public on what we call the Negro spirituals folksongs—’the family jewels’ handed down from 1865 to keep alive the power they have, the ways the slaves used them for their survival, by voicing the sentiments that carried the spirit of protest, religion, of celebration, and reinforced them in the community.  That was the motivation behind our getting started.”

In 2007, Friends of Negro Spirituals received a grant from ACTA’s Living Cultures Grants Program to support In Our Own Words, a project documenting the art of spirituals through the activities of community sing-alongs, quarterly workshops, and interviews with lay and community leaders.  Friends of Negro Spirituals promoted and cultivated culture bearers while recording the oral history of 10 singers and musicians in the Bay Area community.