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An arrangement for Oboe & Piano of Were You There?
Negro spirituals were primarily expressions of religious faith. Some may also have served as socio-political protests veiled as assimilation to white American culture. They originated among enslaved Africans in the United States. Slavery was introduced to the British colonies in the early 17th century, and enslaved people largely replaced indentured servants as an economic labor force during the 17th century. These people would remain in bondage for the entire 18th century and much of the 19th century. Most were not fully emancipated until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
An African American spiritual that probably predates the Civil War, "Were You There" was first published in William Barton's Old Plantation Hymns (1899). The spiritual's earlier roots include a white spiritual known in Tennessee as "Have you heard how they crucified my Lord?" Additional stanzas are available from oral and written tradition.
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