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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Double Entendre: A Glimpse into the Meanings of Slave Songs


As seen in history, traditional slave songs also known as “Negro spirituals” have garnereda very significant role in African American culture and society. Historically, the tones andmelodies heard in the antebellum south were founded on the metamorphosis of African folklore,polytheism and consistent exposure to Eurocentric-Christianity. The forced cohabitation of bothcultures, African and European, produced a painful and yet rhythmic ode to spirituality andescapism. The allegorical duality of various hymns such as Steal away to Jesus and Go down,Moses, demonstrate the double entendre of lyric and diction as to illicit steadfastness and a senseof escape in the heart of the slave. Therefore, through double meaning and metaphor can saidNegro spirituals accurately address the cultural melancholy, optimism, entrapment and escape ofthis racially marginalized group.

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