Calvin Earl
As A Storyteller / Musician I Share The Stories And Music Of Our Americana Musical Heritage & History.

I Shall Not Be Moved

2006 Calvin Earl performance / lecture at the Congressional Democratic Caucus, in Washington DC.

‘I Shall Not Be Moved’ reveals the heart and soul of the African American Spirituals. As human beings one of the most powerful emotions we have is our deep-rooted yearning to have our voice heard and acknowledged. It was no different for the enslaved Africans first arriving in the Colonies in 1619 which introduced slavery to the New World. Slavery soon thereafter became legally accepted in the Colonies until 1865 when slavery was ended.

First and foremost, a spiritual  created and sung by a slave was his or her secret inner most thoughts and desires in a hidden in plain view conversation with God. The spirituals were their vessel in which they could express their feelings yet remain invisible from detection during a time the enslaved Africans were not allowed to have a voice. And a spiritual was the enslaved African’s way of having a private, yet communal conversation with God all at the same time.  I say communal, because as the slaves worked and sang together in the fields, each individual was telling their story out loud, they were ‘touching and agreeing’ as church folk would say. Or as musicologists refer to it as the ‘call and response’ method of singing. The spirituals also kept a record of their quest & strategies on the UGRR to obtain freedom for those who understood.

W. E. B. Du Bois description of the spirituals, I believe is really the most accurate. He stated in his book The Souls of Black Folk, “And so by fateful chance the Negro folk-song—-the rhythmic cry of the slave–stands today not simply as the sole American music, but as the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas. It has been neglected, it has been, and is, half despised, and above all it has been persistently mistaken and misunderstood; but notwithstanding, it still remains as the singular spiritual heritage of the nation and the greatest gift of the Negro people.”

In my view, the spirituals both describe and transcend the American experience and are widely recognized as part of our American culture. As America became a new nation, these songs represented the human spirit. These songs represent  portraits of courage, reflected in blood, sweat and tears in all that was intended for a fledgling nation whose motto was “the land of the free”. The spirituals document the joyful moments of our success. The awful loneliness of our failure. The gaping distance between the American dream and the American reality. These songs encompass the gut wrenching universal cry for freedom all humanity seeks. Pure. Raw. Unfiltered.

To put it in perspective and in the context of our history, back in 1895 the Bohemian Composer, Antonin Dvorak while working in America wrote and published an article regarding his observations of music & arts in America. He stated: “A while ago I suggested that inspiration for truly national music might be derived from the Negro melodies or Indian chants. I was led to take this view partly by the fact that the so-called plantation songs are indeed the most striking and appealing melodies that have yet been found on this side of the water, but largely by the observation that this seems to be recognized, though often unconsciously, by most Americans. All races have their distinctively national songs, which they at once recognize as their own, even if they have never heard them before.”

Throughout American history, the spirituals have captured the hearts of people around the world. The spirituals are both comforting & courage building while capturing the vibrant essence and beauty of our common humanity. What inspires me most is the slaves created this magnificent music in the midst of their own personal, unacknowledged despair. Their music was their voice. Their message was and still is a wakeup call to humanity to find the gumption, fortitude and wisdom to truly believe that all men are created equal and that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness belongs to all of us. Their legacy and their gifts to the world beginning with their original music became the foundation and inspiration for most  all American music genres, making American music the most popular music in the world. Against all odds, they built a lasting legacy in spite of their circumstances.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s during the Civil Rights Movement, the spirituals played another important role in our history. Dr. King said: “An important part of the mass meetings were the freedom songs. In a sense the freedom songs are the soul of the movement. They are more than just incantations of clever phrases designed to invigorate a campaign; they are as old as the history of the Negro in America…..We sing the freedom songs today for the same reason the slaves sang them, because we too are in bondage and the songs add hope to our determination that “ We shall overcome, black and white together, We shall overcome someday….These songs bind us together, give us courage together, help us march together.”–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The accomplishments and contributions of our enslaved population in America needs to be acknowledged and embraced by all of us.  A one sided view of history leads us to live in fear and creates stigmas that continue today in the form of racism to keep our nation divided unnecessarily. That is why I took it upon myself to create and present legislation to the United States Congress to honor the slaves for their contributions and gifts to our nation. And in fact, I was successful in securing a unanimous vote in both the House of Representatives and the US Senate to officially recognize and honor the former enslaved Africans in the United States for their contributions and gifts to our Nation with our deepest gratitude and respect and recognizing the African American spiritual as a national treasure. This historic legislation passed in February 2007.

The truth is we can’t change history. We have to be responsible enough to take action for those who did not have a voice. In the name of truth we must include the contributions and the perspective of the enslaved Africans in our history books. We all need to know about the African American experience and the heroes within our history, including Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman whose own stories helped shape the course of a nation in spite of their enslavement. For me, I see the beauty and talent of the people who created the spirituals and their amazing original sound. The spirituals don’t need to be changed, watered down to fit a musical scale, or serve the purpose of something other than what they were designed to do in the first place. I hear the voices of my ancestors, with humility and gratitude and I am grateful and honored to acknowledge their contribution for without them there would be no me.

Now the question is are we willing to set the record straight in our history books to include and reflect all our diverse cultural contributions within the founding of this nation? The truth is we all want a peaceful thriving nation. So let’s get this done! Like a tree planted by the water, I shall not be moved. Whose with me?

Is The Spirituals History Valuable?

Calvin Earl and Dr. Dorothy Height

“The continuing legacy of those historic songs helped bind us together, gave us courage and helped us march together during the Civil Rights Movement. I believe as you do that this is historical and cultural information which should be preserved. Since it is not, you are performing an essential public service and for this you should be commended. Your talents have brought exposure and life to America’s first true art form. It is our social responsibility to preserve the culture that our forefathers died for. Know that you are an important educational resource. Keep up the good work.”— Dr Dorothy I. Height (1912 – 2010) Chair & President Emerita National Council of Negro Women, Inc

That is what my friend Dr Dorothy I. Height wrote to me in a letter.  She encouraged me when people wouldn’t listen. She would tell me things about her life, and how people thought she was out of her mind to buy a building on Pennsylvania Ave to house the National Council Of Negro Women, especially since NCNW already had a building. She pushed her idea until she got what she wanted, and because of her actions and commitment to the process, not only is the National Council of Negro Women the only privately owned building on Pennsylvania Ave between the White House and the US Capitol building, but it is also right next to the Square where slaves were sold in Washington DC. Her main purpose in acquiring the building was to ensure that every time a President left the White House to go to the US Capitol building they would have to pass the Square where the slaves were sold & the National Council of Negro Women. She wanted every one of our Presidents to be reminded, that it was our enslaved African brothers and sisters who were instrumental in helping build our country. Without the enslaved Africans contributions America would not be America. She believed like  I do that the spirituals created by unacknowledged slaves were a vital part in keeping records of our history. As she said to me on numerous occasions  “without the spirituals being preserved and understood, it would be like we were never here.” She made me promise her that I would never give up on my legislation and I kept my promise. Today the African American spirituals are recognized as a national treasure. And in that same legislation the slaves were honored for their contributions and gifts to our nation with our deepest gratitude and respect.  Below is picture of the National Council of Negro Building and the Square where enslaved Africans were bought and sold.  

Calvin Earl - National Council Of Negro Women building in Washington DC

Elements Of Peace Music

Calvin Earl at James Madison's Montpelier EstateThe Elements Of Peace Music is about peace, love and music! In today’s fast paced world, sometimes our souls just need a few minutes to decompress from the stress of everyday life. The soothing sound of music, and the beauty of being in nature are just 2 ways to help remind us of our knowing that peace, joy and an abundance of love always surrounds us. Sometimes our surroundings or circumstances of our environment tell us otherwise. We can only see the fear and despair leaving us to hunger and dream for a better day. What we must realize is that a better day begins within each of us in the exact moment we decide to choose that today is that better day. It takes focus, and belief in the knowledge that we are constantly being supported, and that it’s always our choice whether we see the support and accept the support or not.

For me music helped me survive and overcome a childhood of bullying and abuse. My negative childhood experiences do not define me by my own choice. I chose then, and I continue to choose that my heart is a joyful one. Too many times in my life I’ve heard people say to me: “wipe that smile off your face boy”. Instead of doing that, I chose to believe a wonderful lady, who told me: “Calvin your smile will bring you everything you ever want in life”. That beautiful lady was my mentor and a true friend to me, her name was Mahalia Jackson. She taught me more about the power and love in the human voice, and using music to bring joy, peace and God’s love to people. Everyone suffers, everyone hurts, everyone feels alone and abandoned at one time or another in their lives and it is our job to lift their spirits to feel loved and supported again. Now, Mahalia didn’t say that in words to me, she taught me through her taking me under her protective wing, loving me by mentoring a young boy so that I wouldn’t loose hope or the courage to do what I love to do. Joy fills my heart every time I think of her. My life has been filled with support and love even when I didn’t see it. The intention of my Elements of Peace Music is to bring real music, no gimmicks or flashing lights, for people to relax and connect with one an other in kindness and love. It’s Our Humanity, Our World, Our Love. Let’s share our best with each other.

Peace, Love & Music y’all!

Hidden Within The Spirituals

What exactly is hidden in a spiritual? Was there a path to freedom embedded in these songs? Were the enslaved Africans just victims or were their triumphs hidden in plain view? What are we teaching our children? These are questions that need answers. Perhaps a new perspective of your own history and the history of your ancestors holds a key to lead you on a new path in life where you feel supported and loved as you grow in your talents and manifest your destiny to become the best you can be. It is possible that the reason you might not believe this is because the perspective of your history has been skewed to ensure you think otherwise. Together we can take the blinders off, and take a look at who we really are and what our ancestors paid forward. 

The next question to ask is who are we and what have we become? My 4 part concert/lecture series beginning with: The History Of The African American Spirituals reveals the answers through a musical and cultural arts perspective.  America, “The Great American Experiment” began as a fledgling country in search of its soul by ruling itself as a democracy. For the first time in world history, a country would choose a governing leadership that would be comprised of individuals coming together as equals to form a government for, of and by the people to collectively be responsible for defining and governing our destiny as a country. Some of these ideals have yet to be fulfilled, and in order to accomplish this we must be the change. We must not settle for stagnation or apathy as the acceptable norm, instead we must choose hope and a willingness to create solutions to end poverty, racism and injustice for the good of our children and our nation.

Through music and storytelling I explore and redefine the American story, not as a black story or a white story but as a “We The People” story. Segregation and separate but equal laws have perpetuated and assisted in the coverup of true historical facts, by hiding the truth of American history and history worldwide of people of color. I share with you what I learned at the UNESCO Conference on slavery worldwide and through my own studies and what I learned from my elders in the cotton fields as a young boy. The oral history I learned from my elders in the cotton fields was raw, unfiltered and needed  some decoding. However the scholars written interpretation and the institutions preservation of history has been tainted by an agenda of race supremacy and intentional division. Thankfully the scholars, universities, historical sites and institutions are acknowledging the coverup of history and are seeking to correct the wrong doing and present the truth. However, this takes time and there are continuing efforts to keep the truth hidden.  

In the mean time, I share the oral history of my ancestors by telling their stories and original music we call spirituals. I also share my own success and leadership role in 2007 recognizing the African American Spiritual as a National Treasure by the 110th US Congress. Also by pointing out the obvious untruths and sharing the stories and music of our ancestors including songs and stories of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s is starkly different than the Colonialists intentional slant written in our history books to divide and conquer us. Believing music and the cultural arts give us all a better understanding of who we are as Americans as individuals will also help us continue to build a better country and future for our children. Bring your questions and a song in your heart to this interactive concert / lecture series. BOOK A CONCERT NOW!

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