Interview with Michael Morgan

Bodhi Tree Concerts:  You have spoken about growing up in the South, can you briefly share some memories from that time and your first exposure to spirituals & singing?  And, can you describe how this art form shaped and influenced your career?

 

Michael Morgan:

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama during the 60's and 70's. The very early years were more tumultuous for my three older siblings than for me. I always felt protected and safe for the most part. Most probably because it was normal to hear about and witness and experience blatant racism daily. My family, and actually the neighborhood, was very good at making the best out of even the worst situation.There was always singing and everything centered around church. My mother was a soloist in our church and we children were in the choir at First Ebenezer Missionary Baptist.

 

It is impossible to speak to when I first heard or was first exposed to "spirituals" as they were always sung during the devotional time between Sunday school and the church service. These songs were taught at school. They were the songs that were mostly unaccompanied and often in the form of call and response. That tradition is still alive today as far as I know. If not, it should be. I began singing in church. Church and school were not so divided. For me, it seemed as though they were intertwined to a great degree as your teachers went to the same church or you knew what church they went to. And would often see your teachers in the neighborhood. They knew your parents and had no problem talking with them. Some of my classmate's parents were my teachers. I had music educators that understood the importance of this music and put forth much effort to ensure that their students understood the importance and history of this genre.


BTC:

As an artist and arts educator, would you speak to the religious nature of spirituals and formal classroom application. In your opinion what can the younger generation learn from these songs do they belong in the public schools and can they be put in a  historical context while not dismissing their religious meaning?


MM:
I was fortunate to have had music teachers that understood the importance of the music and were able to pass on the tradition to us. This is the "right stuff". I realize that music makes us more human..spirituals, even more so. Spirituals are a unique art form. The origins of this genre of music may have its roots in slavery and oppression, the value of the messages of this unparalleled folk song is unparalleled. This is one of the most important truly American forms of artistic expression. They speak to every race, creed, social status, and human condition. From my years of study of the music, I have found spirituals to always be much more than songs. They are the root of pop, hip-hop, jazz, rap, and r&b. How can you not teach this? To do so would be a travesty. It is American history AND World history all at the same time.

 

BTC

Bodhi Tree Concerts believes in the power of music to enlighten and create true understanding between different groups of people. Can you speak to spirituals as part of our history? How do they bring us together - create understanding, empathy and admiration?

 

MM:

Spirituals are as much a part of American history as is the "Apple pie". These songs expressed the pathos of an oppressed people that had been treated inhumanely for a very long time. The development of this articulate music took many years. There is a complex simplicity in them that can be experienced by merely
repeating the words without any notation. These words are universal and I truly believe that everyone can relate to one of more of them. I have several that guide me through each and every day. I admire, respect, and thank the originators, and there were many, of this music that has the ability to touch and make us all a bit more human.