Date of Award

Spring 4-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



Committee Chair

Dr. Kimberley Davis

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Joseph Brumbeloe

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Joseph Jones

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. J. Taylor Hightower

Committee Member 4 School


Committee Member 5

Dr. Jonathan Yarrington


The African American Spiritual is a long-standing genre of music in the classical arena that drew influence from slave songs or enslaved Africans in America. The Spiritual has always required specific knowledge and understanding of the Black culture and struggle since its conception. As an art form, its genesis came around the end of the 18th century with the abolishment of slavery. The Spiritual (folk melodies) became a popular addition to the concert hall repertoire and were first brought to the forefront by the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers between 1853 and 1943. The Concert Spiritual became more popular in the 20th century as composers like Harry T. Burleigh, Hall Johnson, and Roland Hayes began composing and arranging Spirituals for the classical singer. In addition to these composers, the classical singers who helped bring this notoriety to the art form were Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, and the composers who sang their arrangements. The accompaniments became more lavish and intricate melodically, harmonically, and texturally—while remaining true to the original intent and soulfulness of the traditional folk melodies.

This doctoral project informs current and future performers of a new Spiritual collection, Spiritual Sketches, by composer and arranger Damien Sneed and vocalist Lawrence Brownlee. This project will provide a discussion of Mr. Sneed’s stylistic synthesis and treatment of text; it will also discuss the artistic, intellectual, and performance practices that should be considered to provide a successful performance of Spiritual Sketches. Mr. Sneed’s setting of Spirituals provides freedom of invention for the vocalist and pianist.

Available for download on Saturday, April 26, 2025