'Songs of Freedom' honor Black history through heritage of spirituals (PHOTOS)

As part of Black History Month, the Archdiocese of Detroit's Office of Cultural Ministries hosted "Songs of Freedom: Celebrating the Sacred Music of African American Composers," at St. Patrick Parish in White Lake (pictured) and Gesu Parish in Detroit. The concerts, held Feb. 23 and Feb. 24, respectively, and directed by Dr. William S. Harrison, honored the role of spirituals and song in the struggles of the African diaspora, from ancient times to the present day. (Photos by Steven Stechschulte | Special to Detroit Catholic)

From times of slavery through modern-day oppression, 'the songs tell a story unlike any other,' guest performer tells audience

WHITE LAKE — The Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Cultural Ministries celebrated Black History Month with a pair of concerts honoring the history and heritage of African-American composers Feb. 23-24 at St. Patrick Parish in White Lake and Gesu Parish in Detroit, respectively.

The sacred symphonic choral concerts were directed by Dr. William S. Harrison, director of music ministry at St. Patrick.

Guest vocalist Ivan Griffin spoke briefly about the significance of Black spirituals before the concert Feb. 23 at St. Patrick.

“Song has always been a method of communicating public and private thoughts, communicating desire, love, friendship, happiness, pain and sorrow. Through the generations and through the races and ethnicities, certain strains of harmonies and others predominate,” Griffin said.

“When we look at the experiences of people of color originating in Africa, the Caribbean and other parts of the Americas, populated by members of the African diaspora, the songs tell a story unlike any other and had an indelible influence and presence in American music.”

From the slavery of God’s people in Egypt to the brutality of American slavery, up through the civil rights struggles and into the present day, spirituals have been a way of communicating deep emotions connected with the experience of African and African-American people, Griffin said.

“Like our ancestors, we continue to long for salvation and deliverance from the oppression and depression of mental, physical and emotional torment,” Griffin said. “Towards harmony, we can all live in song of nature, melody and harmony, and ultimately, to that time when we’ll all be together in that great, good morning.”

The concerts were sponsored by the Catholic Foundation of Michigan and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Black and Indian Mission Fund.

Dr. Harrison, who has an extensive background in music education, including studying ethnomusicology and Liberty University, conceived of the idea for the concerts in 2021 following the pandemic. That year, he brought together a group of experienced Detroit musicians to compile a concert of Black spirituals with vocal and piano accompaniment.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misattributed quotes spoken by Ivan Griffin. Detroit Catholic apologizes for the error.

(Photos by Steven Stechschulte | Special to Detroit Catholic)


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