Spirituals celebrate the music, life and legacy of Roland Hayes

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Jackson Caesar will be sharing excerpts from his audio documentary production on Thursday at the Lamond-Riggs Library in Northeast D.C.

D.C.-area vocalist and performer Jackson Caesar is bringing African American spirituals to life while celebrating the man who brought it to a global stage in his audio documentary, “Spirituals celebrating the music, life and legacy of Roland Hayes.”

Roland Hayes, whose mother was a former slave, was a world-renowned soloist, yet he is not as well-known as his contemporaries like Paul Robeson.

Caesar, who moved to the D.C. area 20 years ago from Oklahoma City, said he decided to make Hayes his story because: “No one is talking about him.”

Hayes was born on June 3, 1887 in Curryville, Georgia, less than 25 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

After graduating from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was part of the legendary Fisk University Jubilee Singers, Caesar said Hayes toured Europe as a solo singer.

Caesar said he would end all of his concerts and recitals with spirituals. Other performers followed and “now we have spirituals on a global platform.”

Spirituals blended sub-Saharan African culture with the experiences of being an enslaved person.

Caesar says this Christian-based music is one of the most significant forms of American music and has its roots in indoor praise houses where slaves gathered, or in outdoor meetings called brush arbor meetings, and during ring dancing in the 18th century.

Some spirituals were sorrow songs, some were joyful, known as jubilees, others were code for an escape to freedom.

Caesar performed for children last Saturday at the Chevy Chase Library in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

He said he wanted the children to know that “This man existed. I want them to know that this man made a dream come true. I want them to know that this man is a trailblazer.”

He says he also wants them to know that spirituals are not just black music: “It’s American music.”

He calls spirituals the “kickstarter” to all the genres we have. He says first we had spirituals, then we had blues and jazz and swing.

Caesar will be sharing excerpts from his audio documentary production “Spirituals Celebrating the Music, Life and Legacy of Roland Hayes” on Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Lamond-Riggs Library, 5401 South Dakota Avenue NE.

The event is free and open to the public.

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Stephanie Gaines-Bryant

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant is an Anchor and Reporter for WTOP. Over the past 20 years, Stephanie has worked in several markets, including Baltimore, Washington, Houston and Charleston, holding positions ranging from newscaster to morning show co-host.

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