Spirituals developed at the same time as work songs on the plantations. Although they were religious songs with a Christian message, spirituals were also heartfelt expressions of the slave experience. Some of the melodies of the spirituals were similar to those in Africa. Enslaved Africans worshiped together in one-room meeting places called Praise Houses. These small buildings became the center of the Gullah community.
Plantation owners did not permit drums, so the people kept the rhythm of the spirituals with handclaps and foot stomps. They did a dance called the ring shout, singing and moving together in a circle. Someone called out a phrase and the rest answered. After slavery ended, African Americans performed spirituals in concert halls for white audiences.