Maryland Spirituals Initiative Gospel Concert

A talented group of 30 singers will travel from the Eastern Shore to Washington, D.C. under the auspices of the Maryland Spirituals Initiative to perform a gospel concert at the historic Cosmos Club on Monday, September 12. The Maryland Spirituals Initiative was created to begin a global conversation about the essential role of spirituals as one of America’s most compelling and elusive art forms.

That global conservation will travel in the form of a choir of Marylanders assembled from a variety of sources, including the Union Baptist Church and Tidewater Singers, to sing the songs portrayed in the prints of Ruth Starr Rose, an artist whose scenes depict, in part, African American spirituals.

The current exhibit, “Living in Hope: Ruth Starr Rose (1887-1965), African American Life on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” depicts scenes of African American spirituals witnessed by the artist as she worshipped at A.M.E. churches with her African American friends in the historically black towns of Copperville and Unionville in Talbot County over a century ago.

This gospel concert complements and contextualizes the Ruth Starr Rose exhibit. Many of Ruth’s lithographs, sketches and paintings may be viewed at The Water’s Edge Museum, which is open daily, in Oxford. For more information, visit

As an added feature of the concert, the Maryland Spiritual Initiative will introduce There is a City Called Heaven, a book of spirituals envisioned by Ruth as a hybrid book with her lithographs along with words and musical notes arranged on each page. Though not published during her lifetime, the book will be available and is based on a recently discovered mock-up that reveals a unique engagement between the artist and community. Written by Dr. Barbara Paca, There is a City Called Heaven honors early African American spirituals recorded by artists, singers, and writers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore over 100 years ago.

The Maryland Spirituals Initiative, working in collaboration, hopes to eventually release an album of spirituals by a mix of artists to accompany the book, which will include the spiritual recordings of Kentavius Jones.

Leroy Potter and Richard Potter traveled to the Cosmos Club in August in preparation for the gospel concert on September 12.

A champagne reception will follow the 6 p.m. concert. The Cosmos Club is located at 2121 Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. There are a limited number of concert tickets available to non-Cosmos Club members for $35 by contacting Sheryl Fiegel at or 301-442-4223.

The Negro Spiritual

According to Randye Jones of The Gospel Truth about the Negro Spiritual, “Negro spirituals are songs created by the Africans who were captured and brought to the United States to be sold into slavery. This stolen race was deprived of their languages, families and cultures; yet their masters could not take away their music.”

“Negro spirituals spring from a spiritual need that was once acute and is still very real – we must not forget that they are deeply religious songs. Right now in the little remote churches all over the South, quartets are singing for the people – not for radio fame – but for the simple Christian duty of helping souls to find heaven. Their groups of singers are in deadly earnest and full of religious zeal. They come out of the wheat fields and tomato patches, right from the threshing, the crab house, the oyster shucking, to sing for their own people. Very many of these quartets cannot read a note of music, yet so phenomenal is their musical sense that they make an orchestral harmony, with savage, haunting undertones, out of a simple song. The singing of these black Americans is one of the sounders of the new world.”

–Artist Ruth Starr Rose, 1935

“Swing Low Sweet Chariot” is one of the most well-known spirituals. One interpretation of the song is that it’s about abolition and being rescued from slavery. “Swing low” is a request for abolitionists to visit southern states where African Americans were enslaved. In 1951, Ruth Starr Rose painted “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
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