Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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AFRO-AMERICAN FOLKSONGS
of the church knows but little of that which he must forgo, for his mother before him sang only spirituals, and to these he naturally turns as to old friends whom his own religious experiences have clothed in new dignity and light."
There is nothing strange in the fact that the original collectors of slave songs and later students of slave life in America should thus recognize the psychological origin of negro song, for they were familiar with the phenomena which accompanied it; but it is worthy of note that a foreigner, who approached the subject on its scientific and artistic side only and to whom all such phenomena must have seemed strange, should have been equally apprecia­tive. In his monograph, "La Musique chez les Peuples indigenes de l'Amerique du Nord," M. Julien Tiersot, after describing a campmeeting as he had learned to know it from the descriptions of others, says:
It is indubitable, as all who have made a special study of the question agree, that it is in these superheated religious assemblies that the most genuine {plus clair) songs in the negro repertory had their origin. They use them on all occasions-' Like all peoples of low culture, the negroes accompany their manual labors with song. Noteworthy are the "corn songs," which are sung in the harvest season to stimulate the gathering of the grain. The efficiency of these songs is so well recognized that the owners of the plantations pay extra wages to singers capable of leading the chorus of laborers. These songs, however, have no distinctive character; they are religious hymns. The same holds true of the songs sung by negroes for their diversion, when at rest in their cabins, in the family circle or for the dance. Such a use need not surprise us when we have seen their religious meetings degenerate into dishevelled dances under the influence of the same songs. It is the hymn which must sanctify the dance. Carefully do they guard it against any admixture of the profane elementl A superstitous dread in this regard is another convincing proof of how completely they have forgotten their African origin. They would believe themselves damned were they to repeat the songs of paganism; to do this would, in their eyes, be to commit original and unpardonable sin.
The "dishevelled dance" to which M. Tiersot alludes is the "shout" which in the days of slavery flourished chiefly in South Carolina and the States south of it. "It appears to be found in Florida," says Mr, Allen in his preface to "Slave Songs," but not in North Carolina or Virginia." I have a hymn taken down from the lips of an old slave woman in Kentucky which the collector1 designated as a "shout," and it is probable that the custom was more widely extended than Mr. Allen and his collabora-
1 Miss Mildred J. Hill, of Louisville, to whom I am indebted for several interesting specimens.
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III