Calvin Earl
As A Singer / Songwriter / Guitarist / Storyteller / Activist - I Share The Stories And Music Of Our Americana Musical Heritage & History.

I Forgive You. Hate Will Not Win!

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“I Forgive You. Hate Will Not Win.” Let us sing an American spiritual together. Come By Here Lord was also turned into a freedom song that was often sung in the Civil Rights Movement. I hope you enjoy my rendition of Come by here Lord. This is my first music video from my CD “Gratitude”. I hope you enjoy and watch my video. Let me know what you think!

The Only Way To Hear A Spiritual Is To Feel It In Your Soul

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In American history, the true essence of any spiritual began with the secret inner most desire of a slave trying to tell his or her story. The spirituals became the vessel in which the slave could express their feelings yet remain invisible from detection during a time the slaves were not allowed to have a voice. The spirituals are both comforting & courage building while capturing the vibrant essence and beauty of our common humanity.The spirituals have transcended time for hundreds of years, and became adaptable for each generations needs and concerns because of how they were created by the slaves as they labored in the cotton fields of the Old South. A slave would start a song, allowing others to join in, and what is so amazing was each slave had their own stories in mind while singing together. The music invited each individual to tell his or her story, and feel connected to the each other doing the same thing around them bringing a sense of community, when reality made that nearly impossible.

This simple communal singing has such beauty and healing power for the soul that the only way to hear a spiritual was to feel it first and therefore each generation felt comfortable enough to cross all boundaries to achieve the same communal connection to the people around them. 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. They are adaptations of the song the slaves sang— the sorrow songs, the shouts for joy, the battle hymns and the anthems of our movement. I have heard people talk of their beat and rhythm, but we in the movement are as inspired by their words. “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom” is a sentence that needs no music to make its point. 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.” … “I have stood in a meeting with hundreds of youngsters and joined in while they sang, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.” It is not just a song; it is a resolve. A few minutes later, I have seen those same youngsters refuse to turn around from the onrush of a police dog, refuse to turn around before a pugnacious Bull Conner in command of men armed with power hoses. These songs bind us together, give us courage together, help us march together.”–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

One of America’s most amazing Civil Rights leaders is Congressman John Lewis (GA). He was kind enough to share his own story with me, regarding his use of the spirituals during the Civil Rights Movement. This short video is not only inspiring but educational, it shows the true measure of a great man for all he has done and continues to do for our country. I am deeply grateful for his support and co-sponsorship of House Resolution 120 in 2007, recognizing the African American Spiritual as a National Treasure and for sharing his story with me in this video regarding his years on the front line of the Movement. Paying it forward one story at a time…….are you in?

In American History The Slaves Had No Voice, Woman Had No Voice

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To build a nation, you need a labor force. In America, the fact is the early settlers chose slave labor to help build our fledgling nation. We can’t change history. The fact remains our history continues to impact our nation today. We are a country of great ideals, innovation, and prosperity built with a spirit of gumption and fortitude but because our nation allowed and used slave labor to obtain those goals in the beginning, it leaves a stain on the consciousness of humanity and our nation. Which in turn has led to the desire to forget that painful part of our history. So where do we go from here and how can we heal from it? What is important for all of us, is to do the right thing. Can we really forget the slaves and non-slaves who actually did the hard labor to build cities and communities in our nation?

Did you know that in 1619 the slaves cleared 100 acres of land and planted the first sustainable food source in America to save themselves and the settlers from starvation so they could build our nation? We need to be proud and grateful for our ancestors and what they accomplished in spite of slavery and we need to continue to condemn the inhumanity of slavery that forbids a person from making a living wage to support their families. What a shame it would be to lose sight of what our slave ancestors accomplished along side the settlers, just because we would rather not talk about slavery in our American history. Although the American ideals haven’t been fully realized for all American citizens set forth in the Declaration of Independence in 1776, we must continue to find ways to work together to accomplish this for all of us. Today, you can feel the unrest of our citizens trying to correct the imbalance and unjust practices that are not in alignment with our ideals.The fact is our history has never had a one sided perspective, it has only been portrayed that way. Maybe the slave perspective isn’t included in our history books, but that doesn’t stop us from learning their perspective and what they accomplished. The fact remains, history has a multitude of perspectives that all need to be heard. It is up to each of us to ensure this happens.

Grab a cup of coffee and sit down at the kitchen table with your friends and family down-home-we-the-people style and share your stories with each other. Peace and love all around.


Honoring Our Ancestors With Love And Pride!

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Recently, to my delight I have been receiving emails from graduate students from all around the world with their questions or comments on the information found on my website regarding the African American spirituals. One in particular caught my attention. One graduate student working on her graduate studies asked such a great question, I thought I’d share it with you along with my response to her.

“What are your views on the use of Dialect in Spirituals during performance? I have always been drawn to spirituals and have performed them as solos, and conducted choirs singing them, however I have generally used the “translation” provided in the score, which often doesn’t include a slave dialect. I’m interested in your opinion on this.”

My response to her: I have never considered the language of the slaves in the American Colonies to be a “dialect” as a whole. Even today, in America, certain parts of our country have distinctive dialects. These unique dialects can be found for example in the Southern States, Brooklyn, NY, Boston, MA or even the hip hop culture in urban America just to name a few. In Louisiana, there are many people in that State who are known for their Creole dialect and culture which started with the colonial settlers, especially those of French descent, but also included the Spanish, Native American, and African descent born in Louisiana. The term “creole” signifies a culture that embraces the influences of French, Spanish, African and Native American peoples in Louisiana including their take on the English language.Their Creole dialect is still used today and is a treasured part of their culture. Besides the dialect the culture itself is celebrated in their music, arts, and their food. This is a great example of the beauty of our diverse American cultural heritage that continues to be celebrated.

I personally feel we would be gravely mistaken to refer to the broken or poorly spoken English of the slaves as a “dialect”. What we need to do is remember that the slaves came from different countries on the African continent and they spoke different languages in their homelands depending on where they lived. When they arrived here in the New World albeit a forced immigration, they needed to learn how to speak the English language as did the other immigrants coming from countries that also did not speak English in their different homelands. Immigrants from France, Italy, Spain, or other European countries also had the difficult task of learning how to speak English in the New World. However, the difference between the slaves and the other immigrants regarding the necessity to learn a new language was the slaves were strictly forbidden by their masters to learn how to read and write which in itself makes learning a new language extremely difficult.

So the slaves learned by hearing English spoken and many times for example, they confused the sound of t’s and d’s: the t in the word water sounded like and was pronounced like a d, so forth and so on. So in the mid 1830’s through 1867 when Northern abolitionists Allen, Ware, and Garrison admirably attempted to preserve and record the spirituals created by the slaves, the lyrics to the spirituals were written down as the words actually sounded phonetically. What is also important to note, most scholars and musicologists agree that any written score of any spiritual is not authentic to the original sound of a spiritual. However, the spirit in which the attempt to preserve this original music was done with an honorable and loving attempt to preserve the music so at least it wouldn’t be lost forever. And years later in much the same way, and in order to further preserve additional spirituals, Harry T Burleigh, James Weldon Johnson & J. Rosamond Johnson published more spirituals to preserve this original musical art form created by the slaves here in America.

Having said that, I personally neither use a score or dialect to perform the spirituals.
I hope I have answered your questions. Good luck with your graduate studies.

Peace and blessings,
Calvin Earl

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