Originally created 07/19/99

Spirituals designated state music

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Gov. Jim Hodges locked on to almost three centuries of history when he signed into law a bill designating Negro Spirituals as the newest South Carolina symbol.

With its historically large black population, South Carolina played a significant role in the evolution of spirituals. And they continue to evolve.

A spiritual is an a cappella song, usually with a religious motif or leitmotif, created by enslaved blacks in the South. They date back to the 17th century.

Columbia University professor Robert G. O'Meally says spirituals are the black vernacular tradition.

Charleston singer Ann Caldwell performs spirituals at festivals, churches and public and private events. She continually looks for new spirituals and new ways to sing traditional songs.

She and her group, the Magnolia Singers, debuted a spiritual native to the Lowcountry that had not found its way into modern popular performance at this year's Piccolo Spoleto Festival.

Ms. Caldwell said she got the song, A'chie Me Minum, from the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals, a group formed by descendants of old, white Charleston families who want to preserve spirituals.

Lt. Col. Matt Chandler of the South Carolina National Guard had the idea to make spirituals the official state music. The Mount Pleasant resident was a graduate student about two years ago in a joint program between the College of Charleston and The Citadel.

Lt. Col. Chandler's research paper was on black music in the antebellum south.

He talked with Lula Mitchell Holmes, who is considered a keeper of residual African cultural traits.

Lt. Col. Chandler said his meeting with Ms. Holmes got him going. "She inspired me to go on because she said the young people weren't into this anymore, and if there was anything I could do to preserve this, go ahead and do it," he said.

Lt. Col. Chandler contacted Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, and Rep. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, who guided the bill through the Legislature.

Mr. Campsen, who is white, said working with black Democrat Jackson for passage, was an "excellent example of all South Carolinians celebrating a common heritage."


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