Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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It is possible, of course, even likely, though the records are not convincing, that restrictions were placed upon the songs of the slaves, in which an explanation may be found for the general tone of cheer, not unmixed with pathos, which characterizes the music. There is a hint of this in a remark recorded by Mrs. Frances Anne Kemble in her "Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation," name­ly: "I have heard that many of the masters and overseers on these plantations prohibit melancholy tunes or words and encourage nothing but cheerful music and senseless words, deprecating the effect of sadder strains upon the slaves, whose peculiar musical sensibility might be ex­pected to make them especially excitable by any songs of a plaintive character and having reference to their particular hardships." Examples of such restrictive regu­lations are not unknown to history. The Swiss soldiery in the French army were prohibited from singing the melody of the "Ranz des Vaches" because it produced homesickness, and the Austrian government has several times forbidden the sale of the Rakoczy March and con­fiscated the music found in the shops in times of political disturbance in Hungary.
Had the folksongs of the American negro been conceived in sorrow and born in heaviness of heart by a people walking in darkness, they could not have been used indis­criminately, as they were, for spiritual comfort and physical stimulation. It is the testimony of the earliest collectors that they were so used. Though it cannot be said that the employment of music to lighten and quicken work and in­crease its efficiency was peculiar to the slave life of America, it is nevertheless worth noting that this use, like some of the idioms of the music itself, was a relic of the life of the negroes in their aboriginal home. James Augustus Grant, in his€ook "A Walk Across Africa," as cited by Wallaschek, says that his people when cleaning rice were always sup­ported by singers, who accompanied the workers with clapping of hands and stamping of feet. George Francis Lyon, in his "Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa," says that at one place he heard the negro women singing
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III