Royalties For Spirituals

See the source imageI noticed the article with the headline “This church is paying ‘royalties’ when it sings spirituals composed by enslaved Africans,” used its acceptable term “Negro Spirituals” in the subtitle. I wasn’t sure of the acceptance of the term. This from United Church of Brookline (Massachusetts) minister of music Susan DeSelms:

We’re talking about Negro spirituals today … Words matter, and while using the word ‘Negro,’ even in this context, gives me discomfort, I can acknowledge that the discomfort is mine and it comes from the shame I feel as a white person of privilege.

A friend in ministry alerted me to this piece and the decision of the church:

Today, we as a church will begin the practice of collecting ‘royalties’ … for the spirituals we sing and worship. Whenever we sing Negro spirituals. we will collect an offering that will support the development of Black musicians.

I want to circle back to the notion of “cultural appropriation.” When white people tell me I’m appropriating, I remain a skeptic. My experience with people of color in music has nearly always been one of welcome. I was invited to sing in a small gospel choir once. I asked the leader, was she sure? She almost laughed at me; “You know the music.” Playing at Spanish language Masses, likewise. Even when I was adding Latin American synth sounds for instruments we didn’t have handy–pan pipes, bandoneon, etc..

It seems it’s one thing to white people to present music from artists of color and call it authentic, more polished, or just better than “untrained” musicians. It’s another to respect the tradition.

As for music, the human experience in art has always been enriched by the blending of different styles and approaches, as well as cultures and methods.

As for the idea of royalties, something I’m definitely considering.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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