Auburn University Professor Seeks to Revive the Negro Spiritual

Eight years ago Professor Cornel West was called into the office of then Harvard University president Lawrence Summers and told he was neglecting his teaching duties. One of Summers’ criticisms of West was that the highly regarded African-American public intellectual had recorded a rap CD.

Now Rosephanye Dunn Powell, associate professor of music and coordinator of voice studies, has released a CD of her own. But this latest CD of Negro spirituals is not expected to get Professor Powell into any trouble with the Auburn administration as the subject matter is directly related to her academic field.

The spirituals, composed during the slavery years, are considered America’s first true folk songs. But Professor Powell believes that the spirituals are being ignored by young African Americans because of their ties to slavery. So she has taken the music and modernized it with a rhythm and blues mix that include elements of jazz and gospel music.

Professor Powell is a summa cum laude graduate of Virginia State University. She holds a master’s degree from Westminster Choir College and a doctorate from Florida State University. Before coming to Auburn, she taught at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Georgia Southern University.

The title track of Professor Powell’s CD is the well-known spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” Readers who want to hear clips of the various tracks can do so by clicking here.