Inspiring, educating and nurturing those who minister through music and the arts

Royalties for Spirituals Webinar

A nationwide movement has developed over the past several years to recognize that Negro Spirituals are the creative product of a people whose work was never compensated. The need to rectify this injustice has become apparent. The creators of a genre of American song now recognized as classic were never paid royalties for their work. We have enjoyed spirituals in our hymn books and choir arrangements and have listened to them in concerts for decades without just compensation. The time has come to recognize this injustice and to pay reparations in the form of “royalties.” Though we can no longer compensate the original composers, we can pay back our debt as close the original source as possible.

In February 2022, we held a webinar on the concept of paying royalties for the use of Negro Spirituals. You are welcome to learn more by viewing the recording. You will learn how one church has approached the concept of royalties, what they learned along the way and to whom they pay their royalties. Hopefully you will be inspired to establish your own program of paying back the debt we owe to the enslaved people who gave voice to their anguish, their hopes, their faith.

The resources mentioned here were culled from comments by the webinar panelists and the attendees and are not by any means comprehensive. They will make sense in the context of the webinar.

Here is an article published in October 2022 by the Religious News Service that provides a quick overview of the royalties concept and how it has played out across the country.

Recordings of the Webinar

Webinar Video Recording - 90 minutes

Webinar Audio Recording


The webinar is offered here for free. If you would like to support this effort with a free-will gift, you are invited to donate to our Royalties for Spirituals Fund, which will benefit African American music and arts organizations.

We will also accept and pass on royalty payments collected by churches that don't have an organization or group to relate to. We are currently supporting the Chicago Music Association, an organization for Black composers and performers. Your transaction can be handled on our Donate page.


The five R’s: Rehabilitation, Reparation, Restoration, Reconciliation and Relationships

When supporting an organization with our royalties, we are paying a debt, not paying a donation.

Do your research. There is plenty of material out there.

Susan DeSelms - Panelist

The Negro Spiritual Royalties Project of United Parish in Brookline, MA

Susan DeSelm’s Sermon and Congregational Pledge (PDF) – Oct. 31, 2021

Susan Deselm's Sermon (video) - Oct. 31, 2021

Presentation by Susan DeSelms to Old South Church, Boston – Feb. 27, 2022

Media articles about the United Parish initiative:

GBH News

wickedlocal – Brookline

Contact Susan DeSelms.

Hamilton-Garrett Music and Arts Academy

This is the organization that United Parish supports with their royalties offerings. The home page features an interview with Susan DeSelms and Executive Director Gerami Groover-Flores by the Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC.

Adam Waite - Panelist

Contact Adam.

Dr. Emmett G. Price III - Panelist


Way Over in Beulah Lan’: Understanding and Performing the Negro Spiritual by Dr. Andre Thomas

The Music of Black Americans, A History, Third Edition by Eileen Southern

The Book of Negro Spirituals, ed. James Weldon Johnson, 1925

The Second Book of Negro Spirituals, ed. James Weldon Johnson, 1926

May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem by Imani Perry

In Their Own Words – Slave Life and the Power of Spirituals by Eileen Guenther


O Black and Unknown Bards

Congregational Pledge

The plate offering from today's service will go to

Hamilton-Garrett Center for Music and Arts in Roxbury.

We at the United Parish in Brookline

acknowledge the history and significance of the African American Spirituals, traditionally called Negro Spirituals,

sung in today’s worship service.

With great respect and deep gratitude

for the extraordinary musical contributions

made to American music by Black people,

we offer our thanks and praise to God

for the creators of the Negro Spirituals

and their descendants.

We pledge that each time we sing the spiritual songs

of enslaved Black people in our worship together:

We will sing and hear them with holy reverence

and open hearts;

We will honor the unnamed musicians

who created them;

And we will pay royalties to organizations

promoting the advancement of Black artists and musicians in America, starting with Hamilton-Garrett Center for Music and Arts.

We understand that the debt owed

to Black musicians and artists

can never be fully repaid.

Through our prayers, our gifts and our actions,

we will strive to do all that we can

to end systemic racism in America.


The Center for Congregational Song

Reparations Royalties Pilot Program

This pilot program is seeking to offer help to faith communities who would like to find a way to pay reparations by way of their music ministry or larger church body’s congregational song. It outlines a step-by-step process for both entities. This pilot program is a work in progress. They welcome your input and your participation. Sign up at their website.

National Association for the Study and Performance of African-American Music

President: Dr. Marsha Kindall-Smith

National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc.

A historic organization since 1919, NANM promotes, preserves, and supports all genres of music created or performed by African-Americans.

Chicago Music Association
Branch No. 1 of NANM. This is the founding branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians.

Artists Collective in Hartford, CT
This is the organization that First Church West Hartford has chosen to support. It is a multi-arts organization emphasizing cultural and artistic contributions from the African Diaspora.

Lonnie Norwood

The Hymn Society’s Annual Conference 2020

An Address by Alisha Lola Jones: “Just Worship: Exploring the Sound of Justice in Gathering People Through Song” on July 15, 2020. In her address, Dr. Jones talks about the use of the words African American and Negro.

Hymnary – good source for the history of hymns

Amanda Udis-Kessler offers no-charge training on white discomfort specifically for white people.

UCC Musicians Association

P.O. Box 370631

West Hartford, CT 06137

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