Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature

Art Jones recognized by musician’s organization for putting spirit into spirituals

Art Jones

DU Professor Art Jones delivers at talk about spirituals at TEDxDU recently.

Arthur Jones, clinical professor of culture and psychology at the Women’s College, has spent a good portion of his career preserving the songs and music of enslaved Africans in America.

Recently, his work was recognized by the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM). Each year, the organization honors the work of musicians and scholars who have made significant contributions to music.

In 1998, Jones founded the Spirituals Project to bring awareness and understanding of the historical, cultural and musical influence of these religious songs in the development of African-American music.

According to David Morrow, president of the association, Jones has been instrumental in keeping the spirit of the music alive.

“Art has not only brought the spirituals back, he has given them relevance to a new generation,” Morrow says. “He is known world-wide for the preservation and revitalization of these songs. We are delighted to recognize the contributions Dr. Jones has made to the viability of music in his community and his support of African-American music.”

“My work has sprung from a love of music and a desire to continue to spread the legacy and history of the spirituals,” Jones says. “I am both humbled and grateful to be recognized by NANM, because this has been a labor of love for me.”

Jones says the spirituals are the first songs and music developed by African slaves in this country and formed the basis for much of African-American music, such as gospel, jazz and rhythm and blues.

Famous spirituals include “Wade in the Water,” “Go Down Moses” and “This Little Light of Mine.”

While the songs expressed religious conviction, they also often masked secret codes or messages embedded in the lyrics of the songs, Jones says. In addition, “they expressed enduring values concerning social justice and racial reconciliation that continue to be relevant today,” Jones says.

Recently, Jones spoke at TEDxDU about the Spirituals Project.

NANM, according to their website, is dedicated to the preservation, encouragement and advocacy of African-American music. It was founded in Chicago in 1919. Jones received his award at NANM’s 91st annual meeting in Colorado Springs on July 27.

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