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Listen and download all the tracks of Joe Carter's in-studio recordings. And, please share his voice with your family, friends, and colleagues. About 5,000 spirituals, which are distinguished from gospel songs in part because their authors are unknown, are known to exist today. Those songs, Carter says, played a large part in shaping American music of all genres in the 20th century. Each module below includes Carter's commentary on each spiritual, his performances, and the performances of other musicians' renditions of that same song.

"Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"

The pain of slavery was just one example of the universal pain of people undergoing hardship or oppression.

Sung by Joe Carter
"I can sing Motherless Child in Siberia — they know what it means. They've been through hell. I can go to Scotland and Ireland and Wales and they understand the sentiments."

Sung by Sweet Honey on the Rock

» Listen Now (flash, 2:18) The a capella group brings a stylized arrangement to Motherless Child in the 1998 album ...Twenty-Five

"Wade in the Water"

The story of the Pool of Bethesda inspired many slaves. A lame man who had been trying for years to get healed in the pool complained to Christ about his frustration. "Do you want to be healed?" Christ asks him. "Then take up your bed and walk." Beyond its baptismal aspects, this song served as a practical reminder to slaves seeking freedom: wade in the water to wash off your scent, lest the bloodhounds track you down

Sung by Joe Carter
Many slaves loved this story "because this was about self-sufficiency: we are not victims, we are powerful individuals, and we're people of faith."

Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers

» Listen Now This group performs the song on the 1994 album Wade in the Water, Vol. 1: African American Gospel - The Concert Tradition.

Sung by the Sweet Honey in the Rock

» Listen Now Sweet Honey in the Rock performs the song on their album Selections: 1976-1988.

"Didn't My Lord Daniel Deliver"

Sung by Joe Carter
The slaves "were in the lion's den, and that lion was roaring around them every day. But somehow hope came from this story. The angels locked the lion's jaws. They loved that story."

Sung by Barbara Hendricks and the Moses Hogan Singers

» Listen Now From the 2002 album Give Me Jesus | Spirituals.

"Let My People Go"

Sung by Joe Carter
"The master loves our singing. But he doesn't listen to the words we say. He doesn't have a clue. We can say anything we want. So let's give the master a good old song!"

Sung by the Golden Gate Quartet

» Listen Now

"Steal Away to Jesus"

Sung by Joe Carter
"This one's full of coded language. When someone says I ain't got long to stay here, everybody knows (what the slaves were saying was) Hey I'm going to be escaping tonight and I want you to be supporting me."

Sung by Chanticleer

» Listen Now From the 1994 album Where the Sun Will Never Go Down.

"Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen"

The authors of most spirituals are unknown. Various tales, often apocryphal, account for the origins of many songs. One legend has it that upon emancipation, newly freed slaves gathered on a South Carolina island were awaiting promised land grants from the government. "It was a great, wonderful day," says Carter. But when a government agent informed the crowd that no grants were forthcoming, one woman spontaneously began singing this song, making it up as she went.

Sung by Joe Carter

Sung by the Mahalia Jackson

» Listen Now

Additional Spirituals from Joe Carter

The following songs were also recorded as a part of this interview in the Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser Studio at Minnesota Public Radio.

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Joe Carter

was a celebrated performer, educator, and traveling humanitarian who took the Negro Spiritual to audiences around the world, from Novosibirsk to Nigeria.