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Music and Message of Spirituals

Ashley Bryan's award winning children's books will make a wonderful addition to your museum gift shop.

Author, artist, and teacher, Ashley Bryan has been a leading figure in children’s literature for over 40 years. His work has earned numerous honors, including the Arbuthnot Award for lifetime achievement, the Regina Medal, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and a three-time Coretta Scott King award winner.  In addition to creating books, Bryan helps build schools and libraries in Africa.

Music is a powerful story-telling tool.  We encourage you to play music in your galleries (suggestions are provided) and to use the artwork of contemporary artist, Ashley Bryan, which travels with the exhibition.  These eight framed pieces of music and art are a powerful reminder of the empowering effect of the arts on the indomitable spirit. 

Ashley Bryan - I’m Going to Sing – Foreword  

When is a collection of Spirituals not just another book of soul songs?  When it is either volume of Ashley Bryan’s first two books of Spirituals.  The format for the words, the music, and the visuals come from the head, hear, and hands of a creative genius – Ashley Bryan.

Ashley Bryan has the historical awareness to understand that slavery has been a part of mankind’s inhumanity since the beginning of time.  Academically and intellectually, he also acknowledges that the treatment of those people wrenched from their homes along the Ivory Coast of Africa, dragged in chains through the Door of No Return, reached a level of torture and human degradation unknown to any members of any other culture.  Embedded in Bryan’s detailed linocut prints are the responses of these people ranging from despair to sorrow to perseverance to hope – yet always with the belief that the Spirit of the Lord was ever present. 

One can well envision the child dragged from his mother’s side, never to be reunited on earth, and sense the pathos in “Sometimes I feel Like a Motherless Child.”  There is more than a modicum of hope in “Didn’t my Lord Deliver Daniel?”  There is an undying faith that Heaven will be their home, voiced in “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  Each Spiritual tells its own story and one is moved to remember and to sing along with those whose faith carried them on their so often arduous journey.

Taking this artist’s creativity steps further, Bryan always knew that the meaning of the spirituals was universal.  There were no language barriers.  He embodied this concept in a panorama of people of all ages and all races in a dramatic linocut so skillfully done that even in that black and white print, the different cultures are easily identified.  This kind of all inclusiveness speaks not only to the artist’s talent, but even more so, to his heart.

Simple notations accompany each Spiritual, standing like an invitation to let us Walk Together Children because We Are Going To Sing.

Thank you, Ashley, for the genius that brings this gift to all. Thank you for your patience with the precision cuts you made for each line, each note, each facial feature to make these volumes come alive.  As you continue your travels, both home and abroad, may you continue to share your love and your message of the meaning of the spirituals as belonging to all people.

Thanks also to those whose belief in the value and meaning of these Spirituals has made these treasures once again available. 

Henrietta Mays Smith
Professor Emerita, University of South Florida
January 2012

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