Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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RELIGIOUS CHARACTER OF THE SONGS
tors, who gleaned chiefly in South Carolina and the Gulf States, knew. Mr. Allen refers to the fact that the term "shouting" is used in Virginia "in reference to a peculiar motion of the body not wholly unlike the Carolina shout­ing." Very keenly he surmises, too, that it "is not unlikely that this remarkable religious ceremony is a relic of some native African dance, as the Romai'ka is of the classic Pyrrhic." A secular parody of it can easily be recalled by all persons who remember the old-fashioned minstrel shows, for it was perpetuated in the so-called "walk-around" of those entertainments. "Dixie," which became the war-jsong of the Southrons during the War of the Rebellion, was written by Dan Emmet as a "walk-around" for Bryant's Minstrels in 1859. I shall let an eyewitness describe the "shout." It is a writer in "The Nation" of May 30,1867:
There is a ceremony which the white clergymen are inclined to discoun­tenance, and even of the colored elders some of the more discreet try sometimes to put on a face of discouragement; and, although if pressed for Biblical warrant for the "shout," they generally seem to think, ' he in de Book," or, "he dere-da in Matchew," still it is not considered blasphemous or improper if "de chillen" and "dem young gal" carry it on in the evening for amuse­ment's sake, and with no well-defined intention of "praise." But the true "shout" takes place on Sundays, or on "praise" nights through the week, and either in the praise-house or in some cabin in which a regular religious meeting has been held. Very likely more than half the population of a plantation is
fathered together. Let it be the evening, and a light wood fire burns red before the door of the house and on the hearth. For some time one can hear, .though at a good distance, the vociferous exhortation or prayer of the pre­siding elder or of the brother who has a gift that way and is not "on the back seat"—a phrase the interpretation of which is "under the censure of the church authorities for bad behavior"—and at regular intervals one hears the elder "deaconing" a hymnbook hymn, which is sung two lines at a time and whose wailing cadences, borne on the night air, are indescribably melancholy.
But the benches are pushed back to the wall when the formal meeting is •over, and old and young, men and women, sprucely dressed young men, grotesquely half-clad field hands—the women generally with gay handker­chiefs twisted about their heads and with short skirts—boys with tattered shirts and men's trousers, young girls bare-footed, all stand up in the middle of the floor, and when the "spenchil" is struck up begin first walking and "by and by shufHing around, one after the other, in a ring. The foot is hardly taken from the floor, and the progression is mainly due to a jerking, hitching motion which agitates the entire shouter and soon brings out streams of perspiration. Sometimes they dance silently, sometimes as they shuffle they sing the chorus of the spiritual, and sometimes the song itself is also sung by the dancers. But more frequently a band, composed of some of the best singers and of tired shonters, stand at the side of the room to "base"" the others, singing the body of the song and clapping their hands together or on the knees. Song and dance are alike extremely energetic, and often, when the shout lasts into the middle of the night, the monotonous thud, thud of the feet pre--vent8 sleep within half a mile of the praise-house.
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III