While singing for the play Letters From A New England Negro in 1992, Linda Tillery was introduced to some field recordings of traditional African-American music. "My God," she exclaimed, "this is what I've been looking for" Tillery poured over documentary recordings and ethnomusicology research to uncover a treasure-trove of spirituals, work songs, field hollers, and slave songs. Within months, she assembled the Cultural Heritage Choir.
These songs are "survival music." As Tillery explains, "this music, particularly the spirituals, has kept Black people alive through slavery, night rider's raids, and segregation. This is the music that has been used as a support for just about every political movement in this country. People take spirituals, reword them and march together in the name of freedom and justice."
In addition to songs and chants, delivered through such stylistic forms as call-and-response, multi-layered harmonies, and repetitive verse, the CHC repertoire includes intoned sermons, folk tales, polyrhythmic percussion, and dance.