The U.S. Slave Song Project (USSSP) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about authentic U.S. slave songs. U.S. slave songs, also known as Negro spirituals, are true American folk music. They were sung by slaves between 1619 and 1865, when the last slaves were freed. After emancipation, there were no new spirituals.
Unlike gospel music, no spirituals were composed. Slaves sang them to ease their work, to communicate with each other, to remember their home in Africa and to imagine freedom and a better day.
The U.S. Slave Song Project sponsors educational, musical presentations for all kinds of organizations and events: schools, libraries, churches, community groups, businesses, multicultural celebrations, and more. Possible topics include “From Africa to the Underground Railroad,” “After the Underground Railroad,” “Songs from the Fields,” “Secret Codes in the Spirituals Revealed,” and “The Wisdom and Shrewdness of the Phantom Slaves.”
Presentations may involve a single narrator or a narrator and a culturally diverse Spirituals Choir. Ample opportunity is provided for questions and discussion.
James (Jim) E. Thomas is founder and president of U.S. Slave Songs Project. He serves as principal narrator for events and as director of the Spirituals Choir. He has given presentations in Germany, Brazil, Austria, Sweden, Africa, and various locations across the United States. Since 1976 he has been the founder-director of the American Red Cross Chorus at Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, D.C. He has also recruited and directed military choirs in Vietnam and Germany.
While attending Fisk University, Mr. Thomas sang with the world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers. Later he sang with the Robert Shaw Chorale in Atlanta and the Paul Hill Chorale as soloist at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. In 2006 he formed a Spirituals Choir on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, to bring the slave songs to a wider public.
He makes his home in Stafford, Virginia, and on Martha’s Vineyard. He can be reached by snail mail at 165 New York Ave., Oak Bluffs, MA 02557; by email at Jim@US-SlaveSongs.org; or by phone at 703-407-1207.