The Power of Song

About this article

This activity helps young people explore African American history through the study of sacred song. The activity is taken from Church Women: Probing History with Girls but has been adapted for use by all students.

(25-35 minutes)


Bring in a recording of an African American sacred song, or invite a local gospel choir or your school or parish choir to come in and perform such a song. A good resource for music is Lead Me, Guide Me: The African American Catholic Hymnal,by GIA Publications (Chicago: GIA Publications, 1987).

1. Invite the students to find a quiet place in the room, where they will not be distracted. Tell them that they will hear a song from the African American tradition. Tell them to concentrate on the words of the song and on the scriptural images that come to mind. Encourage them to engage their imagination, to see and to hear the reality of the song.

When everyone is settled, play the recording or cue the choir. You may want to go through the song twice, so that the students can concentrate on the words.

2. Ask the students to name aloud the words or phrases from the song that they liked or connected with. Record their responses on the board. As words and phrases are called out, the students will discover how differently each person heard what was sung. By collecting and reading the responses, the students can help one another find a deeper connection with the words of the song and with the story behind the song.

3. Lead a discussion of questions such as these:

  • What does the song tell you about African American history?
  • What other spirituals do you know? [You might provide one or two familiar examples, such as "Amazing Grace" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."]
  • What are common themes of the spirituals you are familiar with?
  • What do you think we can learn from spirituals?

4. Give the students time to think and write about the music they like to listen to. Encourage them to consider what that music passes on to the listener, in contrast to what spirituals pass on.


(This activity is adapted from Church Women: Probing History with Girls, a manual in the Voices series, by Laurie Delgatto with Marilyn Kielbasa [Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press, 2002], pages 74-75. Copyright © 2002 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this activity to be used for classroom or campus ministry purposes. This activity may not be republished in any form without written permission from Saint Mary's Press. To order this book, contact Saint Mary's Press at 800-533-8095, or visit our online catalog at

Published January 12, 2004.