Day 14 – just the black notes

5 Sep

Today’s post is in inspired by a link that my grandma sent to me this evening on the story of the song ‘Amazing Grace.’

Did you know that any Negro spiritual song can be played on just the black keys of a piano? My grandma told me that this evening after learning about this earlier in the week. Conveniently, I was sitting on the bench at my mom’s baby grand when she told me this, so I swiveled around and starting plunking away on the black ebony until the melody of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ resounded from its strings. I couldn’t believe it – even a piano is racially segregated. In fact, in early America the five black notes in a single octave (or technically referred to as the pentatonic scale) were commonly called the slave scale.

But ‘Amazing Grace’, one of the most famous songs ever, is unique in that it is a White spiritual song written on the pentatonic scale – the slave scale. This song was written by John Newton, but before Newton became a Christian he was the captain of a slave ship. The melody of ‘Amazing Grace’ was hummed by the slaves in transit and later Newton would write words to this hauntingly beautiful chorus. I love how this widely influential song possesses such strong symbolism of the deeply-rooted segregation that we have created amongst ourselves yet how through Christ, we are all the same – united and saved by the amazing grace of God.

If you’re interested to know more of the story of ‘Amazing Grace’, click on this link to watch an incredible video – Amazing Grace, Just the Black Notes.

actual slave quarters from the 1700 and 1800s on Boone Hall Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina


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