Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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this superstitious worship until a comparatively late date was no doubt due to the negroes who had been brought into American territory long after the abolition of the slave trade. At the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion the number of these people was by no means inconsiderable. Though the slave trade was abolished by the United States in 1808 and those who followed it were declared pirates in 1820, negroes brought over from Africa were smuggled into the States by way of the Antilles for many years. It was not until 1861 that a trader was' convicted under the law and hanged in New York. As late as 1888 Professor Edwards, describing the negro inhabitants of the Bahamas, who had already enjoyed freedom for more than fifty years, could write: "There lives yet in Green Turtle Cay one old negro, 'Unc' Yawk/ who, bowing his grizzled head, will tell you, 'Yah, I wa' fum Haf ca.' "
It is well to remember facts like these when it is urged, as it is even by so good a musical folklorist as M. Tiersot, that African relics are not to be sought for in the music of the American negroes because they have forgotten the languages (not language) of their African ancestors. In the songs which have been heard by the few people who have left us accounts of the voodoo rites, African words are used, though their meaning has been lost. The phenomenon is not at all singular. Plato found the Egyptian priests using in their prayers, instead of words, the sacred vowels of their language, which they said had been taught their ancestors by Isis and Osiris. Buddhist monks in China, I have been told, still recite prayers in Sanskrit, though they do not understand a single word; small wonder, for nearly two thousand years have passed since Buddhism was intro­duced into China from India. The Gothic Christians at the time of the venerable Bede recited the Lord's Prayer in Greek. Is it difficult to understand what this means? Religion is a wonderful conservator. A greater sanc­tity attaches in worship to sounds than to words, for the first prayers were exclamations which came straight from the emotions—not words, but musical cries. It is for this reason that sacred music endures longer than articulate
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III