In the commentary in his book, My Favorite Spirituals, Roland Hayes said.
What takes pace in the heart of the performer, unconsciously often, escapes the average listener whose rapt attention is engaged with the sensuous pleasure of listening. I am convinced of that, particularly, in the singing of spirituals by members of my own race. My eighty-three-year-old friend, William L. Shelton, carries in himself his African heritage. His mastery in the effective, effortless use of dialect, his sounds so deep and rich, with a twinkle in his voice, all have overtones. They speak to me clearly, echoing the dim past - our ancient African ancestry and tribal memories. There is no sign of his great age in his tall, erect figure, except in a slight stoop that makes him carry his head the merest hint of a bit at an angle as if listening eagerly. His brown eyes can lighten with an astonishing glow that is like the sun darting suddenly amid the shadows of a forest. Gravely courteous as he is, you feel a communion of warmth in his rugged person that strikes you as singularly elemental. It points straight through the underbrush and bramble to a singular item of inner strength and unity of soul.
He could have been describing the only morally valid reason to do music, the basis of all sincere music. It reminds me of the comments that Charles Ives made about how the singing of untrained, common people in church produced music that went beyond the mere sound - no matter what critiques could be made of that - to something related directly to real life and, so, more musically essential than just the physical sound. Roland Hayes certainly describes the feelings I got from his very late performances. Well after his youthful voice had given way to age one critic I remember, in discussing the inevitable effects of age said that from time to time the pure gold of his youthful voice came through. That's what I hear in the recordings from his late life- and he kept singing even up till he was 84. His ear and his mind were still sharper than most at any age, informed by such a long life in music and by a life which was often hard, informed by discrimination and oppression. You hear him singing this music and you know he really meant it.
Here he is singing with his daughter Afrika Hayes, herself a well known and accomplished figure in music in the Boston area. I've only heard one other recording of her voice, The May-bell and the Flowers, a duet by Mendelssohn she sang with her father. It's too bad she didn't sing more, she had a lovely voice and fine musicianship.
Reginald Boardman, Roland Hayes long time accompanist, as well, was a fine musician.