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

They Marched, They Sung Spirituals, They Moved A Nation And The World

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In the spirit of history remembered, it is hard to believe that it was 50 years ago, that brave Americans of all races and religions marched in Selma, AL for the civil rights of all Americans. The marchers, the freedom riders, and the Civil Rights Movement made change possible. We must be grateful for those marchers whose names we do not know as well as those we do know. Congressman John Lewis who marched that fateful day said “some of us gave a little blood on that bridge to redeem the soul of America, to make America better.” In is in that spirit of remembering our history and the sacrifices of those who marched we must also remember the spirituals they sung walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, that helped give the marchers courage and strength as it had given the slaves and white soldiers as they fought in the Civil War, before them.

It is precisely because of our coming together to make America better in our history as a diverse nation that inspires me. My work so far has been to go back even further in our history to honor and acknowledge the slaves contribution to our nation along side the settlers and our founding fathers and to ensure the African American Spirituals will be preserved in all their many facets. Most dear to my heart has been the preservation of that original sound sung in the cotton fields of the old South and the meanings and inspiration of these humble songs created by the slaves. I think it is important to know and acknowledge where the music came from and who created it but even beyond that the spirituals cross any and all boundaries. Ironically, it was the African American spirituals, jazz and blues, that taught the world it is ok to cross boundaries to make great music, it didn’t matter the color of your skin or your ethnicity or gender it is totally irrelevant to making music. Simply, music is what comes through your soul to share with others; music doesn’t see boundaries or limitations it just wants to transmit sound that will move the soul who hears it.

For me activism, music and art go hand in hand. Music and art usually reflect the true essence of what is going on within society in each generation. The spirituals transcended societies reflections of history in a time period that would not allow the slaves who created the spirituals to have a voice. Therefore the essence and secret intent of the spirituals were hidden in plain view in order to preserve and document the story of the slaves existence in America. We all have the need to feel valued and know that at the very least our collective story will remain for future generations to study. The slaves were no different, they just couldn’t tell their story out right in their life time for the world to see, they were depending on each other orally to keep their story alive for future generations. Although we don’t know the individual names of the slaves who created these songs, the spirituals represent one of the deepest most beautiful raw expressions of the human spirit ever created on American soil.

The spirituals are just too valuable to be forgotten and as my dear friend Dr. Dorothy Height (1912-2010), Civil Rights icon, former President and Chairwoman of the NCNW said to me, “I am so proud of you Calvin for presenting this legislation(H RES 120 & S RES 69) to the US Congress, because without recognizing the spirituals, it would be like we were never here”. For me her words solidified what I had been saying for years in my one man show: “if we don’t know where we came from, how can we possibly know who we are and where we are going?” Preserving the spirituals preserves the spirit of all America. I feel if people could see what I see that the spirituals and the unknown beautiful human beings who created them, in spite of their oppressive and painful circumstances created a music that changed the world for the good of all people. That is why I continue to take action, if nothing else to show my own gratitude for what the slaves and their music have given me. I am here because of them.

Celebrate Our American Cultural Heritage And Musical Roots

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What I have learned as a storyteller/musician is the gift of music created from within the human soul can enhance, change and transform the life of the listener. Music heals, it creates a space for joy and fulfillment and has the ability to transform and transcend any situation in the listeners ear even in the midst of human suffering and pain. In American history and in the case of black spirituals these amazing songs allowed the slaves to be heard during a time when they were not allowed to have a voice. Their secret communications within these songs not only changed the course of history, thankfully it preserved their oral history, healed their pain, and paid forward to their children the idea that fortitude, courage and resilience will ultimately give them their God given human right of freedom that belongs to all God’s children. The spirituals represent our entire nation as a National Treasure and around the world they are revered. America in spite of her faults and on going struggle to overcome our limiting beliefs that keep us all from living the full principles the founding fathers laid forth in the Declaration of Independence & Constitution for “We The People”. It is the collective stories of the people of our diverse nation that creates our cultural heritage, our art and our original music. We need to embrace and share our diverse cultures with each other as Americans.

For me personally the music of my ancestors, gives me an overwhelming sense of pride in all the slaves accomplishments both in music and their contributions to building a new nation. The impact of the original music they gave to the world is staggering. I am a very fortunate man to have been born into such a rich ancestral lineage, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to tell their story and record their music as well as create music inspired by the spirituals sound & the frequency to heal embodied in their music. For me, music and the spirituals have been a way I go within my soul to connect with God to renew and refresh and be the best I can be each and every day. A principle passed down from my ancestors that I have taken to heart and I cherish greatly.

Maya Angelou said about herself, and what we could say about our nation “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” It wasn’t easy for any of our ancestors, no matter what culture they came from or how they got here. Building a new nation wasn’t easy. It took every slave and non-slave to build our nation. We need to know and acknowledge that. Today we live in a world that is driven by fear and separation and many times we can feel lost and alone, The songs of my ancestors helped me to know who I am and deal with the fears and difficulties that any of us face. When I was a young boy living in North Carolina, I am the baby of 9, my family was country poor and the lack of food was the norm for us. I used to think sugar water was a meal, and if I was lucky enough to get one of my Moms biscuits too I was grateful. My parents did their best to make us all feel loved, but times were hard and we moved often. So when I discovered the spirituals, and that I could play them on my guitar, I found the spiritual food I needed that took the hunger pains away and the fear I had of not knowing if we might move in the dark of night again. So I played, and played and played the music of my ancestors to comfort my fears, and many nights I slept with my guitar in hand. I didn’t care where the spirituals came from at the time, I was just grateful to have them as a friend who would comfort my young soul. These spirituals helped those who before me and kept them safe too. The spirituals have made many generations feel safe, including the Civil Rights Movement. This music keeps me in touch with who I am and where I came from. The music teaches me to be grateful every moment of every day. I am proud of my heritage and my ancestors. Our stories bring us together, would you like to share your story? I want to know!

Who Am I And Why Am I Here?

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Ralph Ellison suggests in his book the Invisible Man, that a black man considers himself socially invisible. He states “I was pulled this way and that for longer than I can remember. And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man.”― Ralph Ellison

In a way that is what I felt was happening to the spirituals and the people who created them. I created Saving Our Spiritual (SOS) Roots Blog as an extension of my concert/lecture performances which I take on the road to universities, churches, concert halls & in libraries-clearly a most valuable resource in communities all across America. I believe it is vital to humanity and our diverse American culture to save the black spirituals because these songs are America’s oral history, and represent an entire group of citizens whose contributions to our nation are immeasurable in building a nation and have for far too long been invisible and discarded.

Unless we unlock the true essence of the black spirituals and learn about the slaves who created them, this vital part of American history could be lost forever. Did you know that, most of the music & oral history created by the slaves has already been lost forever? The Library of Congress houses over 6000 fragments of these songs that will never be heard in their entirety. The few stories & songs that we have left are at risk of being lost forever, if we don’t do something about it now.

Ralph Ellison further states in his book the Invisible Man: “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

In my own journey to understand who am I and why am I here I needed to know why the spirituals were such an intricate part of who I am. I set out to find the answers and what I found was I had to first understand and know more about my enslaved ancestors who created this extraordinary music I love in the context of American history. The truth is, if we don’t know where we came from, how can we possibly know who we are and where we are going. For those of us, like myself whose ancestors were born in slavery in America, the black spiritual songs hold within them the key to our African American cultural heritage and America’s oral history. When I realized that our history was not only invisible it was disappearing I had to do something. I couldn’t stand by and watch the original sound of the spirituals disappear from existence. That is why I asked then helped move the US Congress in 2007 to an unanimous vote to honor the slaves for their gifts to our nation with our deepest gratitude and respect and recognize the African American spiritual as a National Treasure. Enjoy this video of my conversation with Congressman John Lewis (GA) as he talks about the spirituals and their effect on the Civil Rights Movement! It is fascinating!

Did You Know That Spirituals Can Make You Laugh Out Loud?

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Spirituals are multi faceted and have a fun side too! Sometimes all we need is a little laughter to get us going on Monday morning. So grab a great cup of coffee, put a smile on your face and laugh out loud as you watch me make fun of myself on stage? How’s your pulse rate? You’ll understand if you watch this video and you’ll laugh your way into Tuesday!!!!!
Have a great week y’all….. Celebrating The Black Spirituals!

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