The timelessness of Christmas spirituals

Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Bill Bumpas (

music staffSinging Christmas carols is a popular tradition for many during the holiday season. In Waco, Texas, an expert in black gospel music is re-introducing the passion and richness of Christmas spirituals.

Robert Darden is a professor of journalism at Baylor University and founder of the school's Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. For more than a decade he has been working to preserve recordings from the black gospel music tradition – including Christmas spirituals, some of which were born during the days of slavery in the South.

He says many of the nativity songs were performed in the present tense – or what scholars call the "eternal now," urging an immediate response.


"Frankly in my mind that response isn't to get on the computer and go to Amazon, or to go to the mall," he shares. "It's to think about those who are hurting, those who are like the Baby Jesus thousands of years ago needing help and there was nobody there and there were enemies all around."

The slaves in the 1840s to 1860s "got that," he continues. "That's who they identified with more so than we today in our comfortable, white, middle-class life can understand," says the educator.

Other Christmas spirituals on the top of Darden's list include "Rise Up Shepherd and Follow," "Go Tell It on the Mountain," and "Joy to the World."

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