Spirituals and Ring Shouts

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The folk spirit

The fork spirit was an African-American expression created as a religion and culture among the Negro in America in the 1800s that meant to educate the slaves and describe the hardships during slavery. Fisk University became the first to record the folk spiritual comprising a group of four.

The essential characteristics of the folk spirit included:

i. Clapping of hands

ii. Stomping of feet

iii. Melodic line interpretation latitude

iv. Highest degrees of song repetition

v. It is cathartic such that the singer greatly influences the listener who joins them.

The arranged spiritual emerged in African American slaves during the world war as a form of flashbacking the individual status and environmental hardship affecting their lives as well as showing the uniqueness in what they believed in as Christians. The spiritual accompanied with a ring shout involved members of the group moving towards the center and forming a circle as they dance counterclockwise singing (or shouting) while clapping hands and stamping their feet, this practice distinguished the group. However, as a result of the two forms, their similarities is that they both originated during slavery by African-American expressing their beliefs and suffering in the quest of seeking God to set them free and also were characterized by foot stomp and hand claps. The difference is that a group of four people did folk spirit while the arranged spiritual had a section of the members who started the dancing and singing and were joined by the rest of the members. In the antebellum spiritual performance, it was structured in such a way that individuals sung short phrases and a group sung the response repeatedly. In addition, the soloist varied the song and was allowed to make changes on melody, text, and rhythm of the song. Furthermore, even before the response starts, the soloist could decide to end the call; a leading singer (Burnim & Maultsby, 2014) started each verse of the song being sung.

Worship services among Blacks in autonomous settings in the rural South during slavery.

The autonomous setting of worship meant that the church had no authority of leadership, as it was congressional. In AME, the behavior and activities of worship services resembled the governance of the Methodist church in the highest ranks. The autonomous blacks held their services singing choruses for longer hours repeatedly together in a merry-chorus form similar to the husking-frolic method. For instance, AME church bishop Daniel Alexander Payne pointed out Watson's attitude concerning the spirit of folk or ring shouts in slave songs.  In AME churches, when the sermon was over members removed their coats, formed a ring, and begun to sing followed by hand claps and feet stomp heathenishly.

            The Baptist had organizational groups that lead worshipping without any control, and its governance was congregational. Autonomy in their local churches emerged from having no hierarchical authority in the church while the AME church had an Episcopal system of leadership such that it had small groups of individuals that governed the church forming the hierarchical authority of the church. The Baptist church could only baptize adults as opposed to young ones. The congregational form of worship was similar to both churches, and they believed in one God (Burnim & Maultsby, 2014).

The ring was highly valued in AME, and it was believed to convert sinners to be saved by the word of God that worked differently for them as well as dancing was an aspect of service regarded during slavery. The cultural values were translated into performance of songs by a combination of thuds and feet stomp, which gave a musical rhythm and matched the praise songs that were being sung. The members of the group had a leader that led the dancing and singing, and they were loyal to him or her such that even when they took her away from the group the rest would continue shouting in a ring and performing the dancing motion (Burnim & Maultsby, 2014).

A ring shout

A ring shout is a form of folk spiritual characterized by leader-chorus antiphonal singing and hand clapping incorporating counterclockwise circle move of stylized religious dance. The ring shout is characterized by or has the following elements:

i. Members form a circle at performance space center and move counterclockwise.

ii. Shouts are performed as praise for worshipping either indoor or outdoor functions as well as for amusement purpose.

iii. Shout execution varies between individuals and places with the engagement of body movements.

iv. Repetitions form the highest degrees of songs that are lengthy and indefinite

v. Has tempo varying differently in contexts.

vi. Has full-bodied, robust timber choral

vii. Has highly embroidered tuneful lines that are full of cadence notes in slides

The ring shout is an expression of both religious and cultural identity. Ring shout as an expression of cultural identity is that it is a form of folk spiritual characterized by clapping of hands and stomping of feet to complement singing and drum beat similar in a manner that drumbeats are used during cultural functions. In addition, during ring shout members moving in circular motion is also an element of cultural services. While as a religious identity, the ring shouts incorporated with praise songs during worshipping. Ring shouts use the handclaps and drum beats that are mostly used in praise house (Burnim & Maultsby, 2014).


Burnim, M. V., & Maultsby, P. K. (Eds.). (2014). African American music: an introduction. Routledge.

August 01, 2023

Religion Life


Christianity Experience

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