In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Wheaton College music professor Dr. Johann Buis will be a featured guest on WMBI’s Midday Connection Monday, January 16. The focus of the radio broadcast will be “Spirituals and Christian Hope during Oppression.”
Buis will share the historical background of spirituals.
“Spirituals are the remarkable artistic expressions of people in bondage embracing their newfound Christian faith,” he says. “Through song, they expressed both the immediacy of their own reality and the transcendence of the gospel's reality.”
He will also discuss the important role the spirituals played in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“King found sustenance for his nonviolent resistance by invoking biblical injunctions and the slave wisdom drawn from spirituals,” Buis says. “In his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ he writes that slaves ‘built the homes of their masters in the midst of brutal injustice and shameful humiliation--and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop.’”
“This ‘bottomless vitality’ of the slaves found expression in creating songs of immense richness,” Buis adds.
In addition to their historical significance, Buis says, the spirituals are relevant now. "Today, we draw upon that wellspring of folk song to nurture our souls and examine our own reality and bondage,” he says. “Sorrow songs expressing lament and jubilee songs that express rejoicing show us the bookends of the human condition.”
Buis, an associate professor of musicology in the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, is the current president of the Forum on Music and Christian Scholarship.
The discussion airs at noon on WMBI, broadcast locally at 90.1 FM, as well as online.