Spirituals are spiritual. They are simple and profound, unique and recognizable. While national in origin, they echo man’s soul everywhere. Their appeal is universal. They were the start of our jazz, and have spiced and seasoned our creative musical scene, both popular and symphonic. Spirituals are derived from both Negro and white sources, and these influences combine, like all folk expressions, to make an indigenous musical language.
It is the touching and human spirituality of spirituals that communicates to both the most sophisticated and the naïve listener. They have been born of work and play, of suffering and joy, of oppression and liberation. Listening to spirituals is not passive; it is rather an act of participation — a sense of communal expression. The words are invariably basic, and the music mirrors their inflection. Perhaps it is due to this inflection, which is so characteristic, that when one hears the musical phrases alone the matching words are immediately evoked.
— Morton Gould