Every October, we celebrate Black History Month in the UK, a time to recognise and honour the achievements of African and Caribbean heritage people’s role in shaping British economy, culture and history.
This year, the theme of Black History Month is Sharing Journeys, as we shed light on the stories of people who came to Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries, laying the foundations of today’s diverse Black British Community.
At One Education, the Music team is always at the centre of Black History Month celebrations, teaching pupils about Black British History through the lives of black musicians and the stories contained in their songs.
This week, I was lucky enough to join Carla Jane as she delivered a fantastic workshop to pupils in Piper Hill High School. Carla discussed the origins of gospel music, which can be traced back to the Atlantic slave trade. Although enslaved people lived lives of extreme pain and brutality, singing was a way they could inspire hope and uplift one another.
Originally, these songs were known as “spirituals,” drawing from the messages and themes in the Bible. Eventually, spirituals developed into gospel music, which has since gone onto influence other genres, such as blues, jazz, and pop.
To show us an example of gospel music, Carla played us a clip from Sister Act 2 where the children sing Oh Happy Day. Pupils were clearly already big fans, as they started to sing along with the choir on screen!
Now, it was time to practice singing our own songs together. Carla taught us the lyrics through call and response – the same way that enslaved people would pass on songs to each other. We learned lots of new gospel songs, from Swing Low Sweet Chariot to Gonna Lay Down My Burden.
Wade in the Water was certainly a class favourite – especially when pupils tried to recreate this wonderful modern rendition by The Spirituals.
Pupils had so much fun singing and dancing together, and the bravest even had the opportunity to perform solo in front of the class. It was a great way to explore black history, discovering more about African and Caribbean heritage peoples’ achievements and the contributions they have made to modern British culture.
Importantly, pupils also learned about the unique power of music to bring people together, showing that even when times are difficult, there is always a chance of happiness and hope for the future.
We hope you all enjoy celebrating Black History Month just as much as we have.
If you think this is something that your pupils would enjoy, please get in touch with our Music Team to find more about the workshops we can offer.