The Negro spiritual should always have a place in the black church and community, said longtime musician and retired teacher Clarence Jones, who continues to do his part to make sure the genre is not forgotten.
“It’s a form of music, and it’s a source of our culture, and I just think it’s worth saving. It’s important to tell our children where we came from and how we got over,” said Jones, a member of New St. John Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
Jones, 72, is the founder and director of Heritage, a nonprofit Baton Rouge professional choral ensemble founded in 1976 to perpetuate the Negro spiritual. The group performs a cappella.
Along with celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Heritage is hosting its 25th annual Festival of Negro Spirituals at 3 p.m. today at Christian Life Fellowship, 2037 Quail Drive in Baton Rouge.
The free event will have several acclaimed groups, including the Southern University Concert Choir; the Huntsville Spiritual Chorale, of Huntsville, Alabama; the A Cappella Choir of Wiley College, Marshall, Texas; and Jubilee Performing Arts School, of McComb, Mississippi.
Other scheduled groups are Tara High School, McKinley High School Gospel Concert Choir and the Neoteric Chorale, all in Baton Rouge; Acadiana Ecumenical Choir, Lafayette; and the New Orleans Black Chorale.
“Heritage has been sharing its love of the Negro spiritual with the world for more than three decades,” Jones said. “We always look forward to the festival and sharing our love of the spiritual with all the great choirs that participate. The Negro spiritual has a rich legacy that we must pass on to future generations.”
Each group will perform an example of the Negro spiritual.
The Negro spirituals, rooted in the 17th century, grew out of the slaves’ improvisational skills and their belief in God.
“Through all the injustices we had during slavery, the only thing that got us through was our faith and the songs that we sung,” Jones said.
Spirituals, he said, gave them hope.
“These things had a psychological affect on their lives that if they could make it through and if they could make it to heaven, there’s a new day awaiting,” he said.
Slaves were able to orally pass down more than 6,000 spirituals.
Much of the music heard in and outside of the church today can trace its roots to the Negro spirituals, Jones said.
“Through this music started by slaves, coming out of that was a number of other forms of music following the same pattern,” he said. “After the Negro spiritual, on the flip side, not the religious side, came the blues and gospel music. … From there came jazz and R&B.”
Heritage is perhaps the only group in Baton Rouge specializing in the Negro spirituals.
A native of Morgan City, Jones grew up next door to a church. He was the oldest of nine children and was inspired by his aunt at age 13 to play the piano.
A Southern University graduate in music and voice, Jones has traveled the world performing Negro spirituals and other music.
With Heritage, he has performed from Los Angeles to the White House and before Pope John Paul at the Vatican.
He also did some traveling in a jazz group with late Southern University Band Director Isaac Greggs.
“There’s a number of places I was blessed to be a part of,” Jones said. “The music has introduced me to people I would not have never seen or come into contact with. It’s been my lifeblood, and it’s sustained me.”
Jones, who was at Mount Zion First Baptist Church for 47 years before joining New St. John in 2014, enjoys being a part of Heritage, a group of about 45 members.
“I have some very special people who have been with me for a long time. I love what I do and I’m blessed,” he said.
Many may know K. Aleria Triche as a caring and compassionate educator with a heart for her students.
Readers of Triche’s book “Parenting: An Awesome Responsibility” (Xlibris), will find her to be a kind and compassionate mother and loving wife with a heart for God.
“Parenting” would not be classified as a religious book, though Triche says it was through God’s grace that she started writing the book, and she sprinkles in a few Scriptures.
The book is Triche’s attempt to share her ideas on parenting and family life, even through some difficult times. But it would be hard to separate the mother and wife from the woman of faith.
In “Parenting,” Triche doesn’t come across as preachy but shares nugget after nugget in a short 38 pages. She says raising two daughters for two decades and leading students as an educator for about three decades has given her a story to tell and “the scars to prove it.”
Triche opens the book lamenting the decline of morals.
“The world has changed, and we are imploding,” she writes. “The Internet, movies, and even commercials promote sex, drugs, corruptions, and power at all cost. America’s new moral fiber has made child rearing more difficult than ever. Many of our kids’ parents allow what ours didn’t.”
Triche gets personal by sharing a difficult time she and husband Lester had with a teen daughter.
“So much of the time, the vigor of her rebellion was seemingly unrivaled by anything we could have imagined,” she writes. “Other times, her innocence and need for us was staggering. Looking back, everything about her was always extreme; there was never any middle ground.”
The parents and the teen eventually made it through with prayer.
Triche, a New Orleans native, is a counselor and has a master’s degree in educational administration.
Chapters in the book include, “They May Hear What You Say, But Will They Do What You Do,” Hold On” and “Exhale.”
Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.